Justin Timberlake Suit & Tie Single Cover

Justin Timberlake‘s long-awaited comeback track, “Suit & Tie”, isn’t an instant swooner like “Like I Love You”, nor is it the musical right hook that “Sexyback” was. But it’s still shocking in its own way, namely for not being what anyone expected the first new Justin Timberlake single in six years to sound like.

“Suit & Tie” circumvents everything that’s currently popular on the charts. It’s not an EDM banger, it’s not dubstep, it’s not the ghostly urban music of Noah “40” Shebib, and it’s not a made-for-radio hit like recent fare from Rihanna and Maroon 5. It’s also not an outdated, behind-the-times slice of R&B like some of the recent fare from Ciara and Nelly Furtado — something that’s always a concern when you’ve got Timbaland on production. What “Suit & Tie” is, is a throwback to the smooth sounds of the seventies, with JT playing the role of a modern day Barry Gibb. Guest star Jay-Z brings some contemporary hip-hop flavor to the table, while Timbaland –who has finally dug himself out of the rut he’s been stuck in since Justin last released an album– meticulously builds the track with the skillful precision of someone who’s been churning out hits for almost two decades. Synths quietly skate by, funky horns blare, fingers snap; with each play, a new sound is discovered hidden somewhere within Timbo’s dense production.

Of course, the big elephant in the room is Robin Thicke. Isn’t this supposed to be his sound? Is JT just swaggerjackin’ Thicke in the same way that his detractors claim he jacked from Michael Jackson and Prince on his last two albums? Yes and no. While “Suit & Tie” certainly has Thicke’s prints on parts of it, the blue-eyed soul singer never quite flipped the script on his retro jams in the same way that Justin has. Thicke’s records tend to sound more like throwbacks that have been tailored to fit current radio trends, whereas “Suit & Tie” twists the classic sound into something much more interesting and inventive. There’s the lethargic intro, the chopped & screwed post-rap breakdown, and all of the subtle production quirks that Timbaland has filled the song with. “Suit & Tie” is, without a shadow of a doubt, a Justin Timberlake record.

Like Destiny’s Child’s recently released “Nuclear”, “Suit & Tie” isn’t so much of a comeback smash as it is an anti-single. Both songs quietly creep in through the back door instead of kicking down the windows like they’re expected to. But while “Nuclear” is destined to live on as nothing more than a budget compilation bonus track, “Suit & Tie” has the power to make a real difference on the charts. It’s time to bring classy back, and Justin Timberlake is just the man to do it.

Score: 4/5