Some of the greatest albums ever produced were the result of lengthy recording sessions which spit out many more songs than can fit on one album. What made them so great? You could give credit to arduous editing sessions to pare down to the 10 or 12 best songs. Imagine recording 50 songs and liking many of them, but cutting out 80% of them.
When Justin Timberlake started the process of putting together his first album in nearly seven years, the idea was to put out one album of material. But with the buzz being as strong as it was for part one of the 20/20 Experience (which Drew effortlessly reviewed in March), the decision was made to use some of the outtakes and unfinished songs from the recording sessions, finish them up, and put out a second album. The two albums would come out less than seven months apart.
When I heard about this idea, I had two questions.
1. Would a second album that wasn’t in the original vision be quality material?
2. Would we get sick of a second serving of Justin Timberlake in such a short amount of time?
The short answer to both questions is no. But we’re not here for short answers.
Part two is better than part one.
Originally, I thought that while part one featured some of the best singles of his career (Pusher Lover Girl and Tunnel Vision specifically), it felt a bit disjointed. To get to Mirror, you had to sit through the corny Strawberry Bubblegum. Before getting to the funky That Girl, you had to first listen to the terribly metaphoric Spaceship Coupe. Do this for me. Pretend R. Kelly is singing that song and then feel your stomach turn. JT got a pass on some of these songs.
However, after multiple listens, save for the woefully out-of-touch bad songs, part one is a cohesive batch. Part two is even more cohesive. It blends together seamlessly and unforced. While there are still less-than-great songs on part two, you don’t feel hit over the head with silly metaphors. I take that back. They’re still there. But they’re not as pretentious.
Justin Timberlake is going to be able to get away with more than just about any artist in the game today. Let’s not forget that his roots are country to the core. Let’s not forget that during the end of his *NSYNC run, he breathed every single stereotype of a white kid trying to act black. And even today, he’ll get away with saying ridiculous things in the most ridiculous ways because of the perception that he’s cooler than the other side of the pillow (shout out to Stuart Scott). Just watch this interview he did with Sway. Sway compliments him and says that he doesn’t know if the young bucks who grew up on his music had been able to witness the “full package” of his fantastic MTV VMAs performance. And without fail, Timberlake uses the single worst comeback today and says, “Pause.” It’s ridiculous when basketball players and rappers say it. But it’s more ridiculous when the most famous pop star in the world says it.
I mention that not to ridicule him, only to point out that when he does something bad musically, irresponsible or critically shameful (forgive him Janet?), he’ll get a pass whereas most other artists won’t. It’s just the way it’s always worked. And that’s a long-winded way of saying that part two works so much better as an adult-oriented pop album because it’s less corny and more responsible. Too often during his first album I felt that he was harkening back to his teenage days with the interpretation of love. Part two feels more adult, more edgy, and more real.
Because of the quality of the music, it’s not too much JT.
It’s hard to say that Timberlake was really away for the six-plus years in between albums. He was featured on Jamie Foxx’s album, Timbaland’s album, and even Madonna’s album. He smartly kept his voice in pop music while still making fans yearn for his return. But I did wonder if releasing two albums in such a short period of time would be overkill. That’s not the case. Both albums are thematically different. The first is like a pimply high schooler who dreams of love, while part two is his popular cousin who can actually get girls. How’s that for bad metaphors?
The signature song on the album is Take Back The Night. Not only is it my favorite song from both albums, it might just be my favorite Timberlake song in his catalog so far. I will admit that some of that is because of the throwback sound and the easy going vibe. It feels authentic and doesn’t feel like a Timbaland joint. In fact, my two other favorite songs on part two, Drink You Away and You Got It On don’t feel like Timbaland joints either. I understand that they have great chemistry together, but I’m sure many folks reading this website are a little sick of Timbo as a producer. Word to Bubba Sparxxx.
Jay Z returns on Murder, which takes its cue from Dancing Machine by the Jackson Five. The song uses the word murder in a way one would say a girl is so pretty that her looks could kill. Jay’s rhyme starts out about how Yoko Ono’s ill nana was so powerful that it broke up the Beatles. TKO is the second single and follows so closely to theme with Murder, the first lyrics you hear from Timberlake are, “Kill me with the coochie-coo.” But it’s also more of a trademark Timbaland song than it is a trademark Timberlake song. The boxing theme is fine. Hell, Teddy P used it.
If there’s a qualm to be had about the album, it’s is that it’s way too long. There’s only 11 official tracks (song 12 is part of track 11, but hidden). But Cabaret, featuring Drake, is the only song to clock in at under 5 minutes. True Blood, which is a wannabe Thriller-gimmick song, clocks in at 9:31. The aforementioned TKO overstays its welcome at 7:04. The overly dramatic Amnesia drops in at 7:05. All three, while they have their moments, are daunting, draining listens and that ruins a lot of the enjoyment from them.
While I would rate part one a strong B-, I’m perfectly fine giving part two a solid B+. I don’t think I’ll ever be perfectly happy with a Justin Timberlake solo album, but part two speaks to me as a longtime music fan much more than part one does.