It’s like 2002 all over again. Or, judging by the Lyn Collins loop in Destiny’s Child’s “Nuclear” and the What’s Going On-style filtered woodblock in Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” more like 1972. A smooth homage to the old-school R&B records Timberlake reportedly grew up listening to, the singer turned thespian’s new single ignores current trends and bounces along to, if not its own groove, at least one we haven’t heard in a few decades. Aside from some drawled-out hyping during the song’s sluggish intro, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the track is even a Timbaland production.
“My killer, my filler/Yeah, you’re a classic,” Timberlake sings in his signature falsetto. According to Slant’s Eric Henderson, I’m reluctant to embrace such upper-octave vocal affectations unless I detect sarcasm. To wit, Timberlake’s falsetto on 2006’s cartoonish “My Love” works because it’s sufficiently tongue in cheek. But while “Suit & Tie” is rife with silly double entendres (“Stop, let me get a good look at it/So thick, now I know why they call it a fatty,” he quips during the second verse before imploring his object of lust to call him “Daddy”), the backing track is too faithful to the ’70s soul gems it aims to replicate for anything less than a perfectly calibrated vocal performance.
For all of the WTF reactions the weirdo “SexyBack” received upon its release in 2006, that risky lead single ultimately proved to be zeitgeist-defining. Timberlake and Timbaland have smartly avoided “SexierBack (Dubstep Redux),” but “Suit & Tie” is more filler than killer, more informal reintroduction than explosive comeback. And it’s certainly not a forward-thinking corrective to a pop landscape littered with Eurotrash. In what seems like a bid to avoid both repeating themselves and trying to sound desperately on-trend, the two Tims have produced something altogether unimaginative. Ostensibly hypnotized by the bright lights of Tinseltown, Timberlake hasn’t been in any rush to return to what he claims is his first love, but hopefully the title of his allegedly imminent third album, The 20/20 Experience, doesn’t mean we’re going to have to wait another seven years to find out what else he’s got up his tailored sleeve.