Momentum can really boost an artist’s confidence to take a risk now and again. If there is anyone who is riding high on momentum, it is Justin Timberlake. His return to music with this past March’s excellent “The 20/20 Experience” sparked huge excitement from the public and the music industry (the album currently sits on two million records sold in the US alone). His recent Legends of Summer tour with Jay-Z was a hit across the country, bringing the leading men of rap and pop together for one extravagant show. He has a supporting role as a bearded folk singer in a Cohen brothers’ movie this year. He is attempting a revamp of MySpace as an owner of the social media site. He was even nice enough to perform with those backup singers he used to hang around with at the MTV VMAs. Now, with a leading role in a movie coming out this Friday (“Runner Runner”) and about to embark on his own solo tour, Timberlake thought he might release some more songs from “The 20/20 Experience” sessions. So is this a victory lap for one of the best music comebacks of the last decade, or is just Timberlake cleaning out his closet of outtakes?
The album should actually be called “The 20/20 Experience – 0.5/2” because it is a step back from the lively R&B of the previous installment. Although part one of “20/20” was a throwback record mixed with the futuristic beats of Timberlake’s longtime collaborator Timbaland, it still was an impressive departure from the European flavored sound of Timberlake’s pre-hiatus hit “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” With part two of “20/20”, Timberlake and Timbaland made something that people would have expected from the duo after “FutureSex.” The songs still stretch out like in part one (the shortest song here is 4:30, whereas the longest song is 11:30), but they do not follow the classic groove. Opening tracks “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” and “True Blood” sound more like outtakes from “Future/Sex.” The beats are undoubtedly modern, and Timberlake rides them with ease with lyrics about being “the gentleman that your mamma would love” and falling in love with a girl with skin “so white/the night looked like it had no expiration date.” Here, Timberlake seems more like a suave, single sexual deviant than a blissful married man. “Cabaret” shows him making a girl “say(ing) Jesus so much its like we’re laying in the Manger.” The smooth background falsetto of Timberlake, a mellow-funky beat from Timbaland and a guest spot from Drake keeps the love for the dirty girls high. “You Got It On” is the prime love jam, with the falsetto on high, a rubber bass, flute section and funky guitar letting Timberlake be the charmer we all know him as.
Timberlake tries to keep the retro feel of part one alive in certain areas. Lead single, “Take Back The Night” sounds like a prime Luther Vandross hit complete with string section and two-step dance groove. Timberlake tries to bring back his Memphis roots with the country-blues tingled “Drink You Away,” but it seems lost here on the record. The same can be said for “Amnesia,” which sounds like something Timberlake would sing after falling for a girl after a one-night stand while she looks for her clothes. “Only When I Walk Away” uses a cheap AC/DC-wannabe guitar riff to lead the story of Timberlake putting on the “hurting because she loves me, loves me not” attitude a bit too strong. “Not A Bad Thing” sounds cute and cuddly, but for a different and younger Justin to sing, not Mr. Timberlake. It is understandable that Timberlake is trying to give us a contrast of the head-over-heels feeling of part one, but Timberlake put that image of himself too well into our heads. Hearing the man who brought sexy back would have been nice three to five years ago, but we know Justin as a different man now. When he does his pseudo-rap sound on “Murder” with Jay-Z, it is a bit unsettling and does not sound fitting for him anymore.
This can be seen as a transitional record for Mr. Timberlake. It is a fine record, for sure, but just not the one we would expect from the man endorsing Tom Ford tuxedos and certainly not the one seeing the love of his life as a mirror. We are glad to have Justin back in the music business again, but he needs to leave behind the guy who had an unfortunate incident with Janet Jackson. He can sport a suit and tie, but he still needs to grow up a bit
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars