Justin Timberlake's bringing the sexy-cool Rat Pack era back.
The singer-actor's first album in seven years, The 20/20 Experience, is now streaming on iTunes one week ahead of its official March 19 release date. And by the fawning of the critics, it would appear Timberlake hasn't missed a beat since taking a break from music to pursue a film career.
With the record's 10 tracks clocking in at an average of seven minutes each, J.T., with the help of longtime producer-collaborator Timbaland, mixes up his R&B pop rhythms with some boundary-pushing flourishes, among them shout-outs to Afrobeat, Punjabi-inflected Bhangra and electronica. The grooves are also supplemented with lush horn and string arrangements, like the album's first single, "Suit & Tie," giving Timberlake's new sound an old-school Rat Pack–era vibe.
Here's a sampling of some of the most notable reviews:
• "The 20/20 Experience is the biggest pop event of 2013 so far, but it's not quite a pop album. Its sense of musical space-time is more elastic and sprawling than anything on the radio," gushed Rolling Stone, which gave The 20/20 Experience four out of five stars. "The music is catchy, but the emphasis is on rhythm and flow…You might call The 20/20 Experience Timberlake's neo-soul record. (It has more in common with D'Angelo and Maxwell than Usher or Bieber.) "
• "If you are looking for this to be another Justified or FutureSex/LoveSounds, it's not. While those albums were more about instant-gratification pop, The 20/20 Experience…is the more challenging vision of an artist creating a cohesive work rather than a collection of singles. But he hasn't gone totally retro," wrote People. "This time he's bringing romance back."
• "The songs are a little too slow, too long, too lacking in the flashy tap-dance energy that made him a giant solo success when he was 23. Maybe he wants to be the young Frank Sinatra. But for now, he'll have to settle for being a slightly older JT," countered Entertainment Weekly, which gave 20/20 a B grade.
• "Although The 20/20 Experience showcases Timberlake's impressive vocal stylings and the songs are expansive, employing creative and experimental musical progressions, the album is lacking in Timberlake's signature pop vibe, and the tracks seem to drag. Then again, perhaps all pop music is heading the way of JT—back to its R&B roots, as singers like Frank Ocean have exhibited (albeit with more thrilling results)," penned The Daily Beast.
• "As a song craftsman, Timberlake is, like so many of his contemporaries, only as good as his collaborators. There are a bunch on Experience, from J-Roc to Jay-Z, but it's surely not for nothing that Timbaland is, on the standard version's 10 tracks, always credited first among the producers and second, to Timberlake, among the writers," wrote USA Today, giving it three out of four stars.
To listen to The 20/20 Experience on iTunes, click here.