Not even three months after releasing the highest-selling album of 2013, Justin Timberlake was back with a new single to be featured on his “other” huge album of the year. And so, with a handful of dates slated with Jay Z for the summer, the second half of “The Year Of Justin” was already in full swing. It seems like you can’t look at any kind of media device for more than two seconds without seeing his face. The backlash started a while ago, with some sites claiming they are “totally over” Timberlake. I agree his exposure has been at a ridiculous level, heretofore only reached by Miley Cyrus and Kate Gosselin. Still, he makes great music and is charismatic enough that even when you’re tired of him you still want him around. And you know how the media is, if Part 2 is a huge hit, all will be forgiven and Entertainment Tonight will run a two-week series of shows that are all Justin all the time.
Unfortunately, Part 2 doesn’t live up to the hype (nor to the quality we’ve come to expect from Mister Timberlake). After the blatant Michael Jackson ripoff with “Take Back The Night,” we got one more single a couple weeks ago called “TKO.” A decent song, but nowhere near as fun as “Night,” and certainly not up to par with “Suit & Tie.” And that’s pretty much how I feel about Part 2 as a whole. The songs aren’t nearly as interesting or listenable as anything on Part 1. It feels like they recorded these songs just because they had them written and wanted to see what they could do. I read something Justin’s manager said about how the two parts are supposed to represent two halves of a relationship-part 1 being the initial meeting and falling in love, and part 2 being the later part when things can get dark. I don’t believe that at all.
My thinking is that Part 1 was the album Justin wanted to make and Timbaland convinced him to release Part 2 out of guilt for not including any of these on the first release. That’s the best explanation I can come up with, because Timbaland’s fingerprints are all over Part 2. We also get more unnecessary Jay Z on Part 2, along with a cameo by Drake that manages to save a song that would otherwise be pretty boring. If you loved the lush orchestration and near perfect production of Part 1, you’re going to be sorely disappointed with this album.
There are some bright spots, though. “Drink You Away” is easily my favorite track from Part 2, and it’s wildly different than any song before it on the album. It could be a cousin of the song “That Girl” from Part 1. There’s a bluesy soul vibe, with big guitar hooks and a less overwhelming beat.
The other song I really like is “Only When I Walk Away.” This one is actually well-produced by Timbaland, even if there are air horns at the end. They bring back the guitars and give Justin’s voice a cool distortion that makes it seem like time is slowing down around him. Only about half the songs seven and a half minute runtime is filled with lyrics, the rest is effects and harmonies built around a great beat. It actually resembles “Cry Me A River” in a lot of ways, and going back to the earlier albums is something they did well on Part 1.
I was hoping that Part 2 would take things even further and put more distance between Timberlake and the rest of the artists making pop music. Instead, it proves his mortality and displays the fact that even great artists can have a misfire now and then. I’ll continue to enjoy Part 1 for the amazing piece of music it is, and I’ll reserve a couple tracks from Part 2 for party playlist consideration. Timberlake is doing a world tour, and I’ll be seeing him again in February. Maybe the songs will grow on me by then, but I doubt it.