Hallelujah, JT is back! It’s been almost 7 years since he has released a single of his own, and with anticipation mounting and music fans chomping at the bit, the timing (outside of being long overdue) couldn’t be more right. On paper, the credentials are superb. Outside of Justin himself, longtime collaborator Timbaland is on board to produce and the legendary Jay-Z gets a guest spot. How could it really go wrong? When “Suit & Tie” was introduced to the world, along with the announcement of his 20/20 Experience album, the wait was officially over, and the verdict was almost instant.
In order to properly put the track in perspective, we really have to bring back the sexy again. JT’s first solo venture, the Justified album, was a stellar break from his boy band persona, and tracks like “Cry Me A River” are legendary. However, it was when he dropped “SexyBack” that everything changed. The song was on a different planet; it was dancy, it was soulful, it was distorted, it was clear, it had balls, and it felt safe. In fact, his FutureSex/LoveSounds album was damn near flawless. It positioned Justin as a forward-thinking pop artist with an authentic R&B sensibility and a sharp ear for what would make audiences feel uncomfortable enough to be intrigued and radio feel comfortable enough to play his tracks. Fast forward through 6 and a half years of acting roles, SNL appearances, Madonna collaborations, and quite simply existing, and here we have something new that Mr. Timberlake can claim for himself.
It’s probably easier to approach “Suit & Tie” by what it’s lacking more than what it actually has to offer. On first listen, one thing it is abundantly clear, JT hasn’t gone anywhere. There are two sides to that, though. For one, thank goodness a pop star this talented and savvy is back doing his thing, but on the other side, why has nothing changed? When “SexyBack” first hit the airwaves, it was breathtaking and momentous. If there hadn’t been such a long gap between records, no one would probably think twice about “Suit & Tie.” It feels like the Justin Timberlake single you’d expect. Quite honestly, though, pop music has seriously stepped up its game in the last 7 years. Since he’s last put out his own music, we’ve been introduced to the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna has racked up 11 number one hits, acts like Foster The People, fun., and Gotye have given alternative a fight on the Top 40, and at the same time David Guetta and Calvin Harris have made dance music the norm. The landscape is wildly different from the hip-hop dominated charts he once topped. In a potpourri environment where alternative rock and boy band mania/Bieber Fever can co-exist, there has never been a better time to go wild, try something new, and reap the benefits.
“Suit & Tie” is a stand-up track. It’s got an infectious throw-back flavor…part soul, part jazz, nuanced sweetly with a little hip hop. Garnished with JT’s trademark faucetto and a verse from Jay (despite being pretty pointless) there’s nothing particularly “bad” to say about the song. It’s the context that’s throwing it off. Released in 2007, this song would have been heralded, but in 2013, it just sounds like yesterday’s news. Will it be a hit? Absolutely, and it deserves to be one. Clearly, the fact that it’s a “Justin Timberlake Song” is more than enough to sell it sound-unheard, but radio is going to have no problem finding a slot for it, and the public is going to eat it up. Pop music just isn’t being turned on its head like the last time we heard from him, which is a real shame. Very few artists get the opportunity to revolutionize things the way Justin had with this track. People would be lined up to buy his new music if he just burped for 5 minutes, so the fact that “Suit & Tie” is a safe homecoming track just warrants a major face-palm. He had the chance to really make music exiting again, and instead he just made it feel all warm and cozy snuggled up in front of the fire with a cup of tea and fuzzy slippers.