Not many musicians would release a second album just six months after a massively successful one and a sold-out stadium tour with the reigning King of Hip Hop, Jay Z. But most musicians aren't Justin Timberlake. "The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2" unfathomably tops its predecessor with an operatic exploration of soul, country, funk, R&B swaddled in JT's legendary charisma.
If “The 20/20 Experience” was about the simple act of falling in love, 2 of 2 encapsulates the complicated work of sustaining it. The initial seduction is explored in the "Thriller"-esque "True Blood" and the ode to bedroom stripteases "Cabaret" featuring Drake. The darker times when love and hate are one in the same are referenced in the pain-smudged blues stunner "Drink You Away" and the scathingly badass rock-soul hybrid "Only When I Walk Away.” The sunny “Not A Bad Thing” details the happily ever after.
As with Experience, most songs are at least five minutes long with extended outros, which can enhance a track's strengths or exaggerate its weaknesses. The last minutes of "Only When I Walk Away" are the audible equivalent to cubism, a raw, wild exploration of sound with robust drums and funked up vocals. The closing riffs of "Not A Bad Thing" are another song entirely about flitting off in a cocoon of love, featuring Timberlake’s caramel voices, an acoustic guitar and a lush orchestra. On the flipside, the additional minutes renders the monstrous banger “True Blood” a little anemic.
Timberlake may rely a little too heavily on uber-producer Timbaland’s mad-scientist production; however, he also proves that beyond the smoke and mirrors burns an inferno of talent. 2 of 2 features Timberlake's freest and strongest vocals of his career. The frills-free “Drink You Away” is unabashed Memphis soul steeped in a gritty country riff. And “You Got It On”—a showcase of Timberlake’s golden falsetto that rivals that of Maxwell and even the King of Pop himself—is a throwback to classic baby-making R&B. Along with the haunting “Amnesia,” these songs provide the ballads and slow tempos that the breezy “The 20/20 Experience” lacked.
As a whole, “The 20/20 Experience” is undoubtedly a platinum gem in Timberlake’s treasure-trove of a career, and more than likely the best album of the year. It also emphatically solidifies JT as an iconic musician among the greats that influenced him. Most artists directly reference their idols, but Timberlake’s varied inspirations resonate in the space between beats and the breaths between notes. While the musicality and vocals pay homage to Michael Jackson, Queen, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and others, the provocative execution is entirely Timberlake.
Check out Timberlake's video for "Take Back The Night." "The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2" is available on iTunes and in stores now.