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Rosen’s Songs of the Week: Justin Timberlake Takes Back Off the Wall

Justin Timberlake performs at Phoenix Park on July 10, 2013 in Dublin, Ireland. Justin Timberlake performs at Phoenix Park on July 10, 2013 in Dublin, Ireland.

Justin Timberlake, “Take Back the Night
As the child of a seventies second-wave feminist activist mother, I will forever associate the phrase “take back the night” with protest rallies and patchouli-scented air, and no amount of suave disco-daddy posturing from Justin Timberlake can change my feelings on the matter. Title aside, the first single from the second installment of The 20/20 Experience sounds like the weaker stuff on Vol.1. The groove is serviceable: People will dance. But this is a charmless and complacent piece of retro-fetishism; it makes the year 1979 sound boring, and that makes me want to organize a protest rally. It’s a bigger Off the Wall bite than “Rock Your Body,” without the hooks.  All in all, “Take Back the Night” is no better than the sort of neo-soul a decent wedding band can cook up — and that wedding band would have the good sense to wrap things up in a clean three and a half minutes, moving on to “Shout!” or “Celebration.” JT keeps going for 5:31. And the horns say: zzzzzzzzzz.

Of Montreal, “fugitive air
Polymorphously perverse Of Montreal auteur Kevin Barnes, one of indiedom’s Most Talented and Most Willful, has followed his muse back in time — to that L.A. pool party where Don Draper took a couple of hits of the hookah and wound up face down in a swimming pool. The forthcoming Of Montreal album is an exercise in High-1968-style psychedelia, and with a title like Lousy With Sylvianbriar, it had better be. (Cf. the acid flashback album cover art.) The first single sounds great: catchy and groovy, with guitars that chime and ring and slash. The words are Barnesian, which is to say they’re verbose and wacked-out and full of it, and also smarter than they appear at first glance. Sample lyric, unless I’m mis-transcribing: “It makes me feel like a real man / To hold hegemony over my business / And I refuse to be abused / By the milieu of wistful decay.” More hookah?

Kevin Gates, “4:30 AM
On The Luca Brasi Story, one of the year’s best hip-hop albums, Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates went noir, swamping his bleak drug trade stories in bleaker atmospherics. On “4:30 AM,” from the forthcoming Stranger Than Fiction, the mood is desolate indeed: “Where were you when I was slumped over / Gums hurting from an old bullet / In front of the toilet hunched over?” There’s lots of free-floating angst in rap these days, but Gates has storytelling prowess to give his blues some bite. His trump card is his voice, a bullfrog croak — a transfixing sound that makes even his lesser lyrics count.

Draco Rosa, “Mas y Mas (Versión Oculta)
Draco Rosa, the Puerto Rican–American singer, has been milking the song “Mas y Mas” for nearly a decade now. He first released it as a single in 2004; he rerecorded the song again this year, as a duet with Ricky Martin, his bandmate, back in the eighties, in the great and ghastly Latino teenybopper group Menudo. You can understand Rosa’s attachment to “Mas y Mas”: It’s an excellent song, sturdy enough to stand up to whatever he throws at it. My favorite is the new “Versión Oculta,” a sulphurous ballad rendition. The video goes a bit overboard with the whole Bohemian Cabaret Demimonde vibe — but the tune, and that bass line, are irrefutable.

Photo: Debbie Hickey/Getty