Just a few months after the release of his last LP, Justin Timberlake proves again that he is the embodiment of effortless cool. And that he can do whatever he wants.
"The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2," released Monday, acts as a definite brother to part one on a purely musical level, continuing much of the predecessor's tendency toward soul, Michael Jackson-esque pop, and single-defying songs over seven minutes long.
Part one came with an aura of mystery surrounding Timberlake and the style of music he would bring to the table after such a long musical hiatus. Fans were ecstatic, buying 986,000 albums in the first week and enjoying the smooth blend of classic style with hip-hop and hints of jazz that Timberlake humbly set free into the music world in March.
Now about seven months later, the enigmatic Timberlake has been stripped away to a certain degree, and this album must stand on merit alone.
However, summer 2013 proved lucky in setting up an environment for "Part 2" as consumers, inundated with Robin Thicke's crass come-ons and Kanye's arrogant god complex, will welcome Timberlake's ever-refreshing softness and subtle seduction.
One of the criticisms from part one was its lack of diversity among the album's 10 tracks. The same cannot be said for part two, at least, after the first few tracks.
While the first few songs on "Part 2" are forgettable tracks that could easily have been slipped onto "Part 1" with similar effect, the third song, "Cabaret" starts to hint that listeners may be in for a new side of Timberlake.
These hints increase after single "Take Back the Night" as the pace quickens and the percussion and brass-fueled parts of Timberlake's style begin to kick in.
Then, without much warning, we get "Drink You Away," one of the album's most surprising tracks. This bluesy classic rock throwback is simultaneously weird and perfect. It is a testament to how Timberlake has mastered the musical craft so much that he can pull this off.
Part of this success comes from how it functions to pull the listener out of the funk-haze Timberlake has created and forces them to pay attention, just in time for the best parts of the album.
One of Timberlake's biggest strengths is the way he makes longer tracks that could almost be broken up into two shorter ones but ultimately are bonded together by a larger lyrical theme.
"Amnesia," a 7 minute long track, starts off much like "Pusher Love Girl" from "Part 1" with the heavy string instrumentation. Timberlake croons with an honest, sad vulnerability: "Amnesia, every memory fades away till it's gone / Where did you go / Amnesia, everything and nothing."
About a minute and a half from the end, however, the music lightens into what can only be described as a film score moment. The notes go higher, blended with light strings and Timberlake's lovely melodies, creating this almost cinematic scene that leads him into some of the best vocal and lyrical moments on the album.
With "Only When I Walk Away," is a diverse track in which Timberlake reminds the audience that he's not done with the electric guitar-driven style present on "Drink." This song is produced well, with the vocal and sound effect layering that builds to a climax right before the album's last track.
At 11 minutes and 32 seconds long, "Not a Bad Thing" is a surprising end to the already musically diverse "Part 2." If "Blue Ocean Floor," the ending track on "Part 1," channels the experimentation of artists like Sigur Ros, "Not a Bad Thing" channels early 2000s acoustic pop.
Except, of course, Timberlake makes it cool. The weirdly relaxed tune is really a divergence from the rest of the album musically, but, it works. It's romantic and heartfelt and happy, and reminds us that yes, Timberlake was a part of *NSYNC, no matter how far he has come since.
The mid-song split for this track takes the song in an even more acoustically-driven direction as Timberlake softly sings that if he had a pair of wings, he would pick you up and take you away from here. Timberlake's tender openness in these last few lines brings this album to an, albeit unexpected, closure-filled ending.
Looking at both "Part 1" and "Part 2" as one large musical body, it's easy to call Timberlake's 2013 effort a masterpiece. Listeners are courted along as Timberlake feeds us his suave blend of funk beats and vulnerability. It is a mix that is brilliant and layered and not so confident in its goodness, a mix that is like great literature – it only gets better the more you take it in.
As Timberlake assures the listener, "It's not such a bad thing to fall in love with me."