When Justin Timberlake returned earlier this year with The 20/20 Experience, one of music’s greatest showmen displayed his unflustered allure and delivered 70-plus minutes of “supper club experience complete with plenty of bubbly.”
The second half of that outing is upon listeners with The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 and the effects of the bubbly are settling in.
If the previous record was the “Suit & Tie” experience, this is the aftermath. The party favors have clustered in the corners, the mood is darker, the hangover is settling in, and the animalistic energy is replacing the suave strokes of blue. Michael Jackson is playing on the stereo and Timberlake has taken his tie off. He’s even wearing one of those beer-can helmets.
The songs are still long, with just one shorter than five minutes. On the initial record, the music ventures down different avenues and expands as it runs along. On this trip, things are much messier. At the same time, there is a logical progression to follow. The 20/20 Experience was a record made by a man desperately in love, but 2 of 2 finds Timberlake playing a different role.
At first, the animalistic lust takes hold on “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want).” The song is ludicrous, kind of like a clumsy drunken romp set to tight Timbaland production. Yes, those are animal sounds over the coda. A likewise silly texture takes over the “Thriller”-inspired “True Blood,” complete with haunted house noises and howls. A nine-minute mass that seems calculated for a dynamic stage show, Timberlake is unabashedly theatrical with this tune but it drags on through too many expanded stretches of nonbeing.
By the time “TKO” hits, Timberlake has moulded an antagonistic relationship with the subject of the song. Using a boxing match as the theme, he expresses himself sloppily and leans on clichés. But the sentiment is as clear as an uppercut to the jaw: dude’s been hurt. After the Jackson-tinged lead single “Take Back the Night,” Timberlake paces back to the gloom with Jay Z on “Murder.” Among the creepier tunes he’s recorded, it features Hova spitting bars about how Yoko Ono’s vajayjay is “lethal” and features a bed of baffling and tiresome lyrics that get progressively worse as the song plods along. And it’s one of the shorter tunes, too.
By this time, Timberlake’s impeccable and in-love disposition from The 20/20 Experience has been switched with a lampshade-wearing punk suffering from halitosis. Cementing this notion is the Kid Rock-like “Drink You Away,” a terrible attempt at country-blues, and rock-infused “Only When I Walk Away.”
As if to atone for his infantile blather, Timberlake mallets the tacky “Not a Bad Thing” to close up shop. By this point, the goodwill has been spent and 2 of 2 is the drunken aftershock. The revelers sure as hell don’t want to remember the vomit, crass pick-up lines and hate-sex, but this record insists on Instagramming the shit out of it.