Justin Timberlake, Megan Hilty
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Sexy’s back, but not like you remember it: After seven long, hard, long years without Justin Timberlake at the pop-scene forefront, the creative chameleon finally gives acting a break and gets back behind the mic on his own terms, with a novel project that’s risky and rewarding. But not at first. It seems, initially, the The 20/20 Experience might just be the longest Robin Thicke album ever (cooey come-ons, slinky beats and a 70-minute running time, that’s why), but over time, it becomes clearer: Timberlake has this niche of sophisticated ladies’ man pop down, bucking any comparisons the deeper he reaches with every falsetto dip, meandering beat or old-school sweep. Point is: JT owns the hell out of this album. Having been out of the game for so long, Timberlake rarely succumbs to fab gimmicks or tries to recreate his solo debut, Justified, or its visionary follow-up, and his career pinnacle, FutureSex/ LoveSounds. Justin’s evolution is still a retro affair, as demonstrated by the chic Motown-inspired throw-down “Suit & Tie” and the baritone harmonizers on the brassy ’70s-styled slow jam “That Girl,” but the real appeal is Timberlake’s innate ambition: Even though he’s artistically misguided—not every epic wannabe warrants a seven-minute drag-out, and coda “Blue Ocean Floor” turns Frank Ocean into parody—his innovativeness and just plain irresistibility on songs like the beat-embellished Miami Sound Machine-ish “Let the Groove Get In” and endearing JT throwback “Mirrors” can’t be ignored. By rethinking a tried-and-true format, Timberlake doesn’t just reenter the pop fold with inspired ideas and infectious poise. He challenges you to believe in him all over again.
Megan Hilty, It Happens All the Time
With Smash given the dreaded shift-to-Saturday death sentence, now’s the time for breakout star Megan Hilty to jump musical-show ship. Off she goes with It Happens All the Time, making a wimpy impression that fails to establish the thespian’s solo career outside of the fact that she can sing like a pro (we knew that) and has an impressive iTunes playlist. Besides a few so-so originals, “No Cure” standing out most (and that’s not saying much, considering the others are tepid, too), Hilty’s covers are bold left-of-center choices that her vanilla voice can’t capture: “The Blower’s Daughter” and “Safe and Sound” require rawness that’s just not there. Get this girl some Broadway tunes to belt ASAP.