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Justin Timberlake hasn’t released a single note of music since 2006’s appropriately titled FutureSex/LoveSounds (unless you count the marvelously inappropriate “Dick in a Box”), but he’s still taken up acres of space in the public psyche. As a performer, JT’s aged exceptionally well — from the get go, it was clear the boy band star could dance and lip synch, but over the course of the last decade he’s shown an ability to really sing, write seriously catchy songs, deliver comedic punch lines with aplomb, act, and date Hollywood starlets. In fact, he’s irritatingly good at almost anything he touches.
Timberlake’s crossovers make him the epitome of a new sort of 21st century megastar, a renaissance-style entertainer and businessman who quietly expands his brand without diluting it. Besides the obvious talent, Timberlake’s shrewdness sets him apart — by never staying in one venue for too long, he avoids overexposure and pigeonholing. New album The 20/20 Experience promises to be one of 2013’s most hotly anticipated, and you could argue that JT stays ahead of the curve simply by letting the rest of the world catch up.
Fittingly, first single “Suit & Tie” finds him easing back a bit — it’s Dirty South bump and grind intro gives way to a Timbaland club beat and horn ensemble that’s somehow feels plush and reserved, much like Mr. Timberlake these days. His falsetto glides above a bed of twinkling pianos, African chimes, and funk guitar riffs, remaining in command yet tastefully restrained. The hook is so understated, it gets by you before you realize it, but that little chord change under “it’s so fine” quickly becomes something you’ll hum all day long. The come on’s (“Go on and show em who you call daddy”) are playful, steamy, and just ambiguous enough that ladies might imagine JT’s singing to them and not his wife, Jessica Biel, but even that second thought is pretty hot to consider. “We don’t mind all the watching” he offers “Cuz if they study close, real close/ They might learn something.” On the cusp of his 32nd birthday, Timberlake still brings the heat — he’s just keeping it in his own kitchen.
Jay-Z’s guest appearance is serviceable if not spectacular — his usual high-fashion, big-money rhymes underscore the track’s sonic opulence — but his line “This is trouble season/ Time for tuxedos for no reason” gets at what Timberlake already knows. Matters of style come and go, but few fashions make a man look better than the universal black suit and tie. Like that combination, Timberlake feels both classic and of the moment; in other words, exactly where he should be. At the current rate, his next album will drop in 2024. He’ll be 42. But no worries — he’ll make middle age sound as cool as the other side of the pillow. Mrs. Timberlake’s, that is.
Buy it here.