Justin Timberlake's 'The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2' is streaming at iTunes a week ahead of its official release.
(Photo: Tom Munro, RCA Records)
After taking nearly seven years betweenFutureSex/LoveSounds and The 20/20 Experience, Justin Timberlake waited less than seven months to release his next album. Spacing out the two parts of The 20/20 Experience was smart: At a combined two-and-a-half hours, the complete set would have been too much to digest at one sitting, the sonic equivalent of gorging oneself after a lengthy fast.
Like its predecessor, The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2 (***½ out of four), now streaming at iTunes a week in advance of its official release, is dense and demanding. "Gimme what I don't know I want," Timberlake sings on the album's lead track; it's the kind of response of a listener, appetite was whetted by the first album, might give.
On 2 of 2, Timberlake trades in the elegance of the first album for something more sanguine, more hedonistic. He sings of animalistic desire and lurid fantasies, exploring metaphors of boxing, blood and murder over tracks packed with spiky horns, jagged guitar riffs and unspooling synthesizers. The album's bottom-heavy production - as is also the case with his 15-piece touring band - creates a visceral listening experience. The first half of Timberlake's Experience felt contented in its relationships, often celebratory; Part 2 is no less committed, but it addresses the darker, more warped impulses.
Listen Up: Justin Timberlake's 'The 20/20 Experience'
Musically, the endeavor is as ambitious as anything attempted by the soul greats Timberlake clearly admires - Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield. From the bhangra rhythms of the Thriller-like True Blood to the gospel-infused funk-rock ofDrink You Away, Timberlake luxuriates in his grooves, allowing himself the time to toy with them, break them down, then reconstruct them. Of the album's 11 tracks, five top seven minutes; only one - Cabaret, which features a cameo by Drake - runs shorter than five.
No track resembles any other. First single Take Back the Night recreates the era of Studio 54. Jay Z returns, rapping about Yoko Ono on Murder.You Got It On finds Timberlake trying on a Smokey Robinson-like falsetto.
If it all begins to feel like a bit much after an hour, Timberlake ends the album on a positive note - not once, but twice - first with a tender slow jam called Not a Bad Thing, then with a hidden-track ballad using nothing more than two acoustic guitars as accompaniment. The two songs come almost as a reward for rising to the challenges of the rest of the album. For the adventurous listener, though, the now-completed 20/20 Experience is plenty rewarding.
Download: Take Back the Night, Drink You Away, TKO, Only When I Walk Away