You can't always get what you want. Case and point: Both halves of Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience. Part 2 of 2 is available for streaming in iTunes now, and as such, we gobbled it up immediately. And while the second album starts out strong, it's no FutureSex/LoveSounds or even Justified. Not even close.
That's not to say the tracks on The 20/20 Experience — 2 of 2 aren't good or enjoyable. But as a fan of Timberlake's past albums, which felt like carefully curated dreams, both halves of the 20/20 Experience feel like the explosions of a recently freed man who's been held captive for far too long. Timberlake remained out of the music scene for years and it appears that he's returned with almost too many ideas; 2 of 2 switches gears numerous times, from innovative, dark sounds, to Top 40 fodder, to classic Timberlake grooves, to Memphis Blues, to a song that feels more BBMak than JT. It's confusing and it's not exactly what we drew up in our heads when Timberlake first promised new music.
We all lost our minds because we remember the experience of playing FutureSex/LoveSounds for the first time. It sounded nothing like the JT we once knew. It was an aural onslaught of innovation and experimentation and it quickly became a permanent part of our musical education. Say what you will about Timberlake in the *NSYNC era, with his 2006 album, he had completely arrived. So when he puts years of anticipation into a new double album, it's anything but wrong to expect to be surprised and impressed.
To be fair, The 20/20 Experiment — 2 of 2 starts out with a wonderfully dark sonic journey, suggesting that Timberlake's penchant for reinvention hasn't completely been washed away. He's still got the ability to take his music to a new place. He's still able to croon deeply lustful lyrics that stir us. The first two tracks, "Gimme What I Don't Know (I Want)" and "True Blood," have obvious Timbaland trademarks without feeling too dated. "True Blood" plays with the rash of electronic music flooding pop music at the moment just short of falling completely into its web. The result is a haunting, sexy song that is undeniably Timberlake, but admittedly a Timberlake we've yet to meet.
From there, the album descends into the ridiculously trite "T.K.O." and the Timberlake special "Take Back the Night," which is great, but completely predictable. JT's collaboration with Drake, a song called "Cabaret," is of course solid, but unique only in the aspect of combining two Top 40 super powers.
"Drink You Away" is an interesting foray into the Blues, a genre Timberlake learned early on as a young boy in Tennessee. Though he's been entrenched in R&B and pop music, it only makes sense that he'd eventually dabble in the earthier genre. But as adept as he proves himself to be in this field, the song about using "Jack" and "Jim" to wash away a bad relationship feels incredibly out of place — especially as its followed by "You Got It On," a track clearly inspired by old school R&B.
The second half of the 20/20 Experience is certainly worth a listen. It's just unfortunate that its parts don't add up to a cohesive album. True, many artists are incapable of constructing an album that feels like a collection of songs that actually go together but they're still great, it's just that Timberlake didn't used to be one of them. We can accept these songs as they are and still be disappointed.
JT is incredible. Full stop. That's why we expect his double album to reflect that and cry foul when it doesn't.