Justin Timberlake – “The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2”

(Photo credit: thelineofbestfit.com)

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “True Blood,” “Take Back the Night”

It’s rare that the second album in a double album is an improvement over the first (look at the mediocre “Use Your Illusion 2,” “Hypnotize” and the second disc of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”). But when it does happen, it’s usually because the musician has used up the potential singles and leaves more room to move around. This isn’t necessarily true of this double album, as “Take Back the Night” might be the safest song across either disc, but the ambition is just a little stronger on Part 2. Despite the clunky title.

The second track, “True Blood,” might be over nine minutes and might be about vampires, but the song adds a bit of depth to the beat and achieves that soulful sound Timberlake tried so hard to find on Part 1. And it transitions, beat and all, into “Cabaret,” an equally great and more modestly-long song that has a well-needed guest stop from Drake. Second single “TKO” is a bland seven minutes, but leadoff single “Take Back the Night” is a catchy number, whose horns and moderate tempo call back to Part 1′s “Suit & Tie.” Musically, the album’s more diverse, making it more listenable.

But, like Part 1, it has many faults. The average song length here is around 5:30, as opposed to Part 1′s 7:00. But at 74 minutes, it’s just as long and bloated as it’s 70 minute partner. the album has a lot of great ideas, but the songs are neither experimental enough to be original or conventional enough to be memorable smashes. They exist in a weird in-between, where they’re mainly all great songs that just go on for 2-5 minutes too many. And that’s not good. Also, Timberlake’s lyrics have been consistently mediocre across the two parts. The worst offender here is “Only When I Walk Away,” where Timberlake profanely curses out someone for only loving him when he leaves. Not only does hearing Timberlake swear like this sound uncomfortable, it’s not believable for a man who is so openly in love with his wife. But the worst offender is the other guest spot, Jay-Z. His summer keeps pushing him further and further from the top, and it continues as he raps about Yoko Ono’s vagina (?) on a song called “Murder.” Maybe poorly timed, as Ono just released a much more experimental, and much better, pop album.

Luckily for Timberlake, these two albums are inherently likable. They’re always catchy, the transitions between ideas are strong, and they’re fun. Almost every song stretches far past a comfortable zone, but sometimes you can get lost in it (“True Blood” especially). The only objectively bad song is, unfortunately, the bonus track that closes the album. “Pair of Wings” has both the acoustic tenderness and lyrical cheese of an N*SYNC throwaway. Otherwise, the album is enjoyable. It’s bold, it’s ambitious and it’s good enough to be a very entertaining pop album, reigning in an age of otherwise unoriginal pop singers.

-By Andrew McNally

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