updated 03/12/2013 AT 4:30 PM ET
•originally published 03/12/2013 AT 7:00 AM ET
Let’s get right to it: Does Justin Timberlake’s comeback album live up to the near-impossible expectations?
Yes and no. 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 – now streaming on iTunes ahead of its March 19 release – is the more challenging vision of an artist creating a cohesive work rather than a collection of singles.
Most songs stretch out for more than seven minutes, taking interesting twists and dissolving into cool codas that wouldn’t make the radio edits. With lush, layered arrangements – producer Timbaland is again behind the boards – topped off by Timberlake’s falsetto-kissed vocals, this is maybe the best sounding album you’ll hear all year.
It finds JT delving deeper into R&B: Just check out the Stylistics-style balladry of “Pusher Love Girl,” the Al Green moves of “That Girl” or the “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ”-tinged funk of “Let the Groove Get In.”
But he hasn’t gone totally retro, also exploring electronica on headphones-ready tracks like “Tunnel Vision” and the beautifully sung “Blue Ocean Floor” that dip into Radiohead and, more recently, James Blake territory. Declarations like these reveal a newly married man in a state of wedded bliss.
This time he’s bringing romance back.