Monday, January 14, 2013

The Surprisingly Subtle Return of Justin Timberlake

Image courtesy of Sony Music Ireland.

We've already chatted about Justin Timberlake teasing with the details of his return late last week. Earlier today, JT finally gave us Suit & Tie the opening gambit from new album The 20/20 Experience due later this year (as confirmed by Timberlake in an open letter on his website). The production comes via Timbaland and also features Jay-Z. So far, so starry. But what's really impressive about Suit & Tie is just how "subtle" it is.

After a slow-mo opening with a judder-y hip-hop beat it bursts into a sprightly R&B groove that feels like the kind of fusion of radio-ready R&B, soul references and shimmery pop that only a Timbaland/Timberlake production could provide. It's got a grown-up air to it, like a logical follow on from the overall feel of his Futuresex/LoveSounds album.

The consensus from fans and pundits today (speaking of, both The Prophet Blog and The Guardian's Michael Cragg have good takes on it here) is that it's not a Sexy/Back style banger, a big lead single that announces a triumphant return to chart dominance. But in a odd way this feels like a good thing. For starters, Suit & Tie may not sound like some kind of huge comeback song but it's sophisticated, infectious and has a sort of lived-in confidence that only a huge star could pull off. Timberlake is effectively taking a look at what's huge and doing his own thing.  Given that his previous material was produced by Timbaland who then went on to enjoy a ubiquity that would see a certain production style seem played out it's a smart move. For an artist that prides himself on keeping a fairly low musical output (as that now infamous video speech suggests) it's a good fit to keep things moving at a pace that feels like his.

Whether the R.Kelly/Robin Thicke vibe of this will comfortably land with radio and big audiences is hard to debate but as an opening gambit Timberlake has got us talking with a tune that feels like a solid mix of throwback and something fresh. By doing his own thing Justin has probably made the most interesting move of all. 

Suit & Tie is on iTunes now, you can stream it in full here. The 20/20 Experience is released later this year.

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