It will be impossible to properly review Justin Timberlake’s latest album without comparing it to its rival – in the form of the ubiquitous, controversial monster-hit Blurred Lines. Indeed, Timberlake must have been flummoxed by the success of Robin Thicke, an artist cut from the same cloth yet seemingly condemned to operating in Justin’s shadow. Blurred Lines was undoubtedly Thicke’s play for the big time, and there is little I can offer on the track or the correspondent album that hasn’t already been said by better writers than I. Yet I will say this – the video is pretty creepy. TI dances like former Arsenal Player Emmanuel Eboue, and hash tagging your own name should be regarded as a cardinal sin. So, emerging from the debris of Thicke’s explosion onto the music zeitgeist, and of an unsuccessful lead single Take Back the Night, Timberlake has something to prove. The question is, will The 20/20 Experience 2 reclaim his lost ground?
The early signs weren’t promising; the lead single, Take back the Night, was an undoubted nod to Michael Jackson and The Beegees, which lacked the excellence of either. It just isn’t catchy enough, and in a world of Robin “Frankenstein” Thicke’s monster, it flopped in the UK charts. TKO is perhaps one of my picks from the album, and deserved a far higher chart position than it received. However, the opening synths sounded more like Lonely Island than Ayo Technology, and perhaps Andy Samberg would have been a welcome respite from Timberlake as he vamps on an extended boxing metaphor for 7 minutes. Whilst catchy, TKO is 2 minutes too long.
This issue of length is 20/20’s most infuriating aspect; with too many tracks feeling dragged out and inflated. Second track, True Blood, is one of the repeat offenders, with the already mediocre She Wolf-esque stomp descending into a bloated coda. This lack of succinctness was an issue in Justin’s previous effort, most starkly in tracks such as Mirrors, and is really the problem that should have been addressed. If Timberlake is going to ever recreate the brilliance of tracks such as Senorita, he would do well to keep it brief.
Yet, the album is by no means an unmitigated disaster, with Murder and Cabaret leaving editing mercifully snappy. Both tracks are typical Timberlake, and could stand on previous albums such as Justified, even if Jay-Z and Drake’s features are both pretty uninspiring. The tail end of the album cannot be described in the same vein however, as Timberlake strikes out into unknown waters, with unfortunate guitar lead tracks like Drink You Away sounding like a Carrie Underwood B-Side. These forays into Nickelback territory jar with the average RnB alongside it towards the end of 20/20.
Somewhere in The 20/20 Experience Part 2 is half an album of solid tracks, and I imagine TKO, Murder, and Cabaret could form the backbone of a listenable slice of Timberlake. However, we are instead presented with an album saturated with mediocre and sluggish pop, which makes it a struggle to enjoy 20/20. Unfortunately, if Timberlake wants to oust his usurper, he’ll have to do a lot better.