Time seemed to go by fairly fast between the moment the first 20/20 Experience dropped and the second one made itself known. The first volume in this new Justin Timberlake musical saga ran a little over an hour, so to have an extra hour of music seemed awesome, gratifying, and insane. With the first volume, I felt Timberlake had created the perfect definition of an album, a risk in 2013 when most pop fans aren’t flocking to albums as people used to. People have continued to bash Timberlake for whatever reason: being white, being a country boy, and being someone he isn’t so he decided to challenge the naysayers. For The 20/20 Experience (2 of 2) (RCA) he decided to embrace what the naysayers are saying about him and to throw it back at everyone.
I liked the first Experience a lot so as I started listening to the second installment, I thought a few things. At first, I didn’t think these songs were that good, at first. Obviously, by calling the albums a 20/20 Experience, he wants us to get a full vision of what he’s trying to create but I wondered “is this just too many extras? Are these just songs that should’ve been left to be bonus or non-LP tracks?” The one thing that was immediate: Timbaland. His style is great and you know it is his sound that is being heard, and that made up for what I was feeling with the first two tracks. What changed things was the third track, one that featured Drake called “Cabaret”. I’m not what you’d call a Drake fan but I’ll listen, and his performance here is fairly decent. The pairing here works, and that was the moment the album got better and more interesting. While Jay-Z makes an appearance on the Experience with “Murder”, his references to John Lennon and Yoko Ono seemed half-assed and misinformed, and I felt that in a world where anyone and everyone can do a search on Google, he is someone who came off as clueless as J. Lo in the claim that Ono had what it had taken to break-up The Beatles. Incorrect, Mr. Carter, put on a dunce cap for that.
There are three noticeable things on this album that stood out from the rest of the material. “Drink You Away” has a very strong country feel with gospel roots, but it could also be a blues song. To me, it seems that if Timberlake senses his style of soul/pop could lose a following, he could always move over to the country side. It wouldn’t be a problem, and maybe people remember that photo of him with Britney Spears where they both showed off their denim duds. He most likely grow up with a good share of country too and this could easily become a song he performs next year as part of a collaboration with a country artist at next year’s Grammy award ceremonies. Or do a country remix with Lady Antebellum or Little Big Town. I can see it, and he should do it. The other thing is the rock feel of “Only When I Walk Away”, which for some reminded me of Janet Jackson when she did “Black Cat” and how people felt it was a stretch, a challenge, and a risk. One might argue that that can be said for Timberlake, which will lead others to say “well he’s white, he doesn’t have to worry about risk” but still, rock isn’t familiar to most even though he once played bass with the Flaming Lips for a television performance. Why shouldn’t any artist be able to play around with genres and have fun? By the time the album gets to this point, the mood of the album had gone beyond fun.
The third thing I noticed happens in the last third, where lyrically he starts to get more aggressive and swears a bit, as if he’s trying to show a hip-hop edge or by being a rock’n’roll bad boy, but I wondered if it was truly necessary. Timberlake can be whatever he wants in his music, and yet I have always felt he had been reserved and pushed himself to an established limit and never went past it. I’m old enough to full understand what those vulgarities mean, I do not need a parental advisory but I don’t think the songs really needed them, as the attitude he wants to establish is already there. Fortunately, this feeling isn’t something that happens throughout but maybe for Timberlake, this is very much a part of the Experience that he wants to share, that full vision that allows listeners to understand where he is coming from, even if some of those elements are unnecessary.
In comparison, the second Experience is good but not as good as the first. As a whole, both Experiences are masterful and are this generation’s Use Your Illusion, displaying an artist who is willing to share his heart and soul to everyone, and to see how far he can and is willing to go. At the same time, some of the songs here can be considered seeds for where he could find himself next. He doesn’t have to kowtow to anyone, and I feel Timberlake could make any type of music at this point and be a success, and I’m sure he is confident in knowing this. Anything he does could be considered a risk, and yet he is a risk taker doing the tasks by his own rules, within his own limitations, which are probably non-existent. A lot of music today is marked with designer labels, but it’s nice to hear a major label artist pulling off the kind of things today that were once part of the norm in the music industry years ago, while still understanding the standards that once were. To be limitless while holding to the limits shows incredible restraint, and one wonders what would happen if he really let himself go. Maybe that is his full vision, The 20/20 Experience in its grandest form. If we allow ourselves to fully see, imagine what would happen if we allowed ourselves to fully listen.