2013 is a year that will be difficult to define musically. It has been marked by trends stemming from numerous genres; country continues to enter the mainstream, hip-hop has surged to becoming the new “pop” and singles still dominate the charts while album sales struggle. All artists strive to leave their mark on the musical landscape, while others leave a mark that has little to do with their music.
Numerous “artists” (I use the quotes because IMHO many popular recording artists are nothing more than pomp and circumstance without substance) are overshadowed by their celebrity or by Robin Thicke recorded a song (“Blurred Lines”) that will leave an imprint that may last for years; at least this DJ hopes it does. However, much of the fun that came with a scandalous song -from a typically restrained artist- was wiped out by the controversy attached to the nudity in its music video and the “twerking” incident at the VMAs. Miley Cyrus is now making music that proves she is no longer a child, even though her actions speak otherwise (e.g. the aforementioned “twerking” incident). Lady Gaga stepped back into the vibe of her first album and has reclaimed the enjoyment that came with it. Katy Perry, along with Taylor Swift, have found the formula for songs that are catchy yet mature. Even Eminem is back with an aggressiveness that was thought to be lost over the past few years.
However, 2013 will be remembered as the “Year of JT”. When Justin Timberlake announced he was released a new album, and returning to the road, the music world was abuzz with hype and anticipation. After a bombardment of public appearances and social networking blasts, he released his first album of new material since 2006 with The 20/20 Experience (read my review of the album here, http://www.cuttingedgedjs.com2013/03/20/the-2020-experience-the-return-and-the-review/) Most artists follow the standard routine; several months of rumors followed by the release of a single track, followed by a music video, then the release of the album and an inevitable tour. Justin Timberlake decided to throw everything at the wall and figured it would all stick. The 20/20 Experience was released to mostly-positive reaction. I say “mostly-positive” because most listeners enjoyed the sound of the album, which was a natural – or exaggerated – progression from his previous work. But those same listeners, including this one, were exhausted from the length and complexity of the album. The artistry displayed in the set showed a mature artist with an appreciation for many genres and instruments (e.g. the 13-piece band, The Tennessee Kids, who also played on both the album and on tour).
After sharing the stage with Jay-Z for an epically-sold out stadium tour, JT has surprised us again by releasing a second (and final?) part of the 20/20 Experience. Although not really a surprise (?uestlove let it slip in March and JT made it official a few days later…), the new disc takes a similar approach that could also be the downfall of the whole project (9-minute songs!?!). The first album is full of lovey-dovey-ness lined in lighthearted charm and the occasional obsession that comes with a new love, while the second take a 180-degree turn for the aggressive; it’s angry, dirty and sexual. Part 1 of the experience highlighted The Tennessee Kids strength, their 4-piece horn section and a variety of sounds that leaned toward old-school soul and smooth ditties while still mixing in the classic Timbaland/JT collaborative bass and drums. Part 2, however, is a full-on assault of Timbaland deep bass tracks and “auto-tuned for aggression” JT. To use his own words, Part 2 is the “hotter, older evil twin sister” of “20/20,” and then, even more intriguingly: “If you could imagine you’re 16 and she’s everything you thought. She’s Marilyn Monroe (Part 1) and then you meet her older sister; everything that’s dark and wrong about her at that age is why you become infatuated with her (Part 2).” (NY Times)
Here is my track-by-track review of The 20/20 Experience 2-of-2…
1) Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)… If sex is an animal, then JT wants you to take him into your jungle. A straight-forward combination of claps and crisp beats lay out the theme of the album, dance-floor ready bangers lined in sweat and sex. One of the shortest tracks on the album stays consistent without reaching the indulgent lengths of the tracks that follow. (B+)
2) True Blood… If sex is a vampire, then JT wants a taste. Stuck between pheromones and silhouettes, the “sex-uenddo” continues to ramp up in this epic-length track. Clocking at over nine minutes, what starts as a figure-of-speech becomes a dark, twisted tale of temptation. The track suffers due to its length and its business; basically, there is so much going on that it’s difficult to understand the lyrics. (C+)
3) Cabaret (ft. Drake)… If sex is a show, then it’s all about the performance. A throwback that sounds more akin to the Aaliyah/Timbaland 1998 masterpiece, “Are You That Somebody”. Drake makes a scandalous cameo that turns JT’s sexual-vagaries into a full-on bedroom romp. It’s the only track on the album that clocks in at less than five minutes. (B)
4) TKO… If love is a boxing match and you just got knocked out. Another banger that allows for more vocals from Timbaland, including his trademark “mouth-clicks”. The lyrics, “she kill me with that coo-coochie-coochie-coo”, may sound more ideal for an R. Kelly – even a ‘Lil Wayne – song but they pull it off. (A-)
5) Take Back The Night… The most innocent track is also one of the most familiar. Reaching back to the disco-era days of Michael Jackson, even ripping the “Take It Over” lyric straight from the classic “Workin’ Day and Night”. This is one of the only songs that truly utilizes The Tennessee Kids, cause you will listen when horns speak. A night of working the club and making the most of a night is clean, fun and easy to bounce to. (A-)
6) Murder (ft. Jay Z)… If obsession over a girl – or her “lady parts” – takes control of you, it’s a killer. The middle of the album highlighted by continuous hooks and catchy guest-spots. Jay Z makes up for the laziness of his verse from Part 1’s “Suit & Tie” by comparing his obsession with the same reason that Yoko Ono was the cause of the Beatles breakup. (A)
7) Drink You Away… Justin hones the other side of his Tennessee upbringing, moving from soul to country. An ode to the bottle and why alcohol doesn’t cure even the deepest pain. Name dropping his favorite boozy friends, “Jack” & “Jim”, Justin makes an interesting, if not uneventful change of pace. (B-)
8) You Got It On… Once again showing his ability to switch speeds and adapt to different genres, this is a late-90s slow jam. If clothes make the man – or woman – JT doesn’t care what you wear because he’ll be satisfied regardless. (C)
9) Amnesia… When you’ve been cheated on, but can’t explain what happened to the girl you fell for. Every bad memory fades away until he forgot what happened. Reaching back to the vibe of The 20/20 Experience Part 1, this song changes tone during its final moments. Becoming a wish to continue the love another day no matter how much pain it causes. (B+)
10) Only When I Walk Away… When the amnesia wears off and you remember all of the wrongs, but she keeps pulling you around; you realized she only loves you “when you walk away”. A true successor to JT’s earlier breakup songs; she begs on the phone for him to stay (“Cry Me A River”?), but he reminds her that this is the game we play (“What Goes Around, Comes Around”?). This is the “inception”-track of the album, going to the hilt and creating a song-within-a-song-within-a-song!! Phase one is an electric-guitar laden rock song, the second an R&B version of the rock song and it closes with a reggae toned send off. (C+)
11) Not A Bad Thing… Despite all of the sex-driven beats and anger-driven rants all JT wants is a little love. Learning that love is free and that you don’t have to be scared of it is a light-hearted way to end the album. (B) Don’t be scared by the eleven minute run time on this track because…
12) Pair of Wings (Bonus track)… What year is this, 1997? After a brief pause the album closes on the softest of notes. Starting with the second *NSYNC disc, each of Justin’s albums have come to a thoughtful and heartfelt tone; offering to take you away from the troubles of the world on a pair of wings. (C+)
OVERALL : B
As I mentioned above, this disc feels like a natural evolution for his musical tastes and an expanded sense of showmanship from his previous material (Part 1). In the end, though, this album feels more like an appropriate sequel to “FutureSex/LoveSounds”. JT has crafted almost three hours of sound that stretches through every conceivable genre. Was it a culmination of his seven-year hiatus and –subsequently- another lengthy detachment from music? Or was it a sign of things to come? Will we suffer from JT-overload?
The 20/20 Experience is simply that, an EXPERIENCE. It was a welcome; if not overblown, return for the reigning “Prince of Pop” (even I won’t call him the “King of Pop”). Part 2 will make many listeners happy, as its crafted of danceable beats and attitude-inflicted lyrics that replace for the airy and artsy vibe of Part 1. It was worth the wait, but a little breather (or a three-and-a-half minute song) is necessary.