The last time Justin Timberlake put out an album was 2006. The electro-R&B singer made suavely ludicrous promises to bring “sexy back” to pop charts that had apparently been neglecting such.
Seven years and a “Social Network” later, Timberlake is back, and we’re pleased to report that the results are quite sexy.
“Suit & Tie” is a radiant, ramshackle song that’s less of a coherent single and more of a coronation event. It grafts at least three different Timberlake settings — the slow-rolling futurist, crisp-collared soul man and backseat driver to a rap kingpin (here, Jay-Z) — into one strange track that comes off like a best-man wedding toast. It’s rambling and full of awkward transitions; yet occasionally finds its feet and ultimately heralds a joyful event: Justin Timberlake making music again.
Produced by longtime sideman Timbaland and J-Roc, the tune’s opening movement dices some luminous ’70s sounds (horns, harps) into a loping half-time beat. It’s all throat clearing, and Timberlake doesn’t do much beyond announcing his upmarket sartorial tastes and intentions to “show you a few things.”
But that’s a goal he promptly delivers in the song’s second and best section, a sashay through Philly soul and early disco reimagined as a sci-fi debutante ball. How have we survived these seven long years without Timberlake’s falsetto toeing that line between sweet and lascivious and the dance floor? With a bit of editing and extended-mixing, this marimba-driven section of “Suit & Tie” would be out of the gate as 2013’s song of the year so far. That is, until Timberlake pulls the e-brake and changes it yet again.
It’s rare that a Jay-Z cameo throws a song off its game, but “Suit & Tie’s” conclusion comes so abruptly, and after such pleasure before it, that Hova would have to be on some “Blueprint”-level fire to keep up the pace.
Instead, he’s riffing on the current high-dining “truffle season” that makes him sound like rap’s Graydon Carter. The beat beneath it is moody and spacious on its own, but it so thoroughly breaks the song’s spell that not even Jay can recover the glow.
“FutureSex/ LoveSounds” used a similar smash-mix tactic in sequencing its tunes, but Timberlake’s presence was so strong that it carried the album.
So let’s hope that the centerpiece vibe of “Suit & Tie” is the heartbeat of the forthcoming album “The 20/20 Experience.” If it is, then let’s break out some truffles.
Yo La Tengo
“Fade” (Matador Records) 3½ stars out of five.
It’s possible at this point to consider Yo La Tengo as a musical version of Michael Apted’s long-running “The Up Series,” documentaries that since 1964 have followed the same 14 children as they’ve grown and changed. Started in Hoboken, N.J., by guitarist husband Ira Kaplan and drummer wife Georgia Hubley, Yo La Tengo has been documenting lives through music for a quarter of a century now, creating solid, virtually unimpeachable rock ’n’ roll that offers a model for dual creativity.
On the 13th Yo La Tengo album, the couple works through complicated emotions with as much elegance and grace as ever. A gentle record featuring strings, humming keyboards, the gorgeous roaming bass lines of longtime member James McNew and the occasional muted brass section, “Fade” is classic Yo La Tengo: honest, unpretentious and, above all, catchy.
At its best — the delicate “Cornelia and Jane,” the feedback-heavy cruise-pop song “Paddle Forward,” and the rhythmic, orchestral closer “Before We Run” — “Fade” offers reassurance that the band and the couple at its center are as solid and creatively stable as ever. The family that plays together does indeed stay together.
— Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times