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."
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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 lets break out some truffles.