We are living in brazenly ironic times, ladies and gentlemen. The historically woeful Pittsburgh Pirates are in spitting distance of first place, Hanna Montana has unwittingly unleashed twerking onto the mainstream, and the best R&B acts on the planet TODAY are white. Yes, that latter notion seems a bit over-the-top, but stay with the kid. While the headlining likes of Rihanna, Usher, Ne-Yo, and Chris Brown have not totally abandoned their rhythm and blues roots, their material—beyond the occasional soulful gem like “Fine China”—have over the last few years worshipped more at the altar of Euro-pop king David Guetta than Marvin Gaye or Mary J. Blige. Maybe this is the reason why Justin Timberlake’s latest musical salvo “Take Back The Night” is so jarring.
Nothing here is particularly groundbreaking. JT and long-time producer Timbaland are once again channeling their inner Michael Jackson on the second installment of The 20/20 Experience. But this is no mere homage. The groove is lush, sexy, intoxicating, and at times obnoxiously infectious. “Take back the night, take back the night/They gon’ try to shut us down/I’ll be damned if we gon’ let them…” the Memphis crooner sings over the type of a horn-accented floor burner that seems like it came straight out of early Jheri curl '80s R&B radio when S.O.L.A.R. Records was killing the game. There’s the prerequisite break down (“And the horn say!”) and the type of euphoric in-the-hood crowd chants that puts you in the mind of sweaty house party throwdowns. This is barebones, straight-no-chaser good stuff.
Of course you are tempted to point out that the blue-eyed soul king coronation that has been showered on Timberlake has been of the egregious variety. Certainly Miguel has more than held up the end of the deal and the seemingly unstoppable R. Kelly is stil going strong when he's not singing to pre-recorded tapes. But between “Take Back The Night,” Robin Thicke’s no. 1 backyard barbecue anthem “Blurred Lines” and JoJo’s criminally slept on mixtape Agape, the elephant in the room is doing the electric slide. While you break down that metaphoric image, turn the music up. Way up. —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)