By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After making the transition from child star and boy band heartthrob to movie star, Justin Timberlake is returning to music with his first album since 2006, cementing his grown-up status with a record inspired by his new marriage.
Timberlake, 32, officially releases "The 20/20 Experience" on Tuesday. But the 10-track record of smooth love songs with a throwback R&B sound is already No. 1 on the iTunes charts after it was streamed online last week.
The album is Timberlake's first since "FutureSex/LoveSounds" which spawned hit pop singles "Sexyback" and "What Goes Around...Comes Around."
Although lead single "Suit & Tie," featuring rapper Jay-Z, failed to meet sales expectations on its first week of release in January, the album is expected to sell well following weeks of promotion including a Grammy Awards show performance and a stint by Timberlake on TV sketch show "Saturday Night Live."
Industry sources cited by Billboard said "The 20/20 Experience" could sell 500,000 copies in its first week, and easily give Timberlake the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 album charts.
"The 20/20 Experience" sees Timberlake embracing his status as a married man after his wedding to actress Jessica Biel in October 2012.
The singer draws on lazy summer romances for the majority of his songs, with slow-tempo swing rhythms on tracks such as "Pusher Girl Love," where Timberlake describes his addiction to a girl.
Jason Lipshutz at Billboard magazine gave the album an 88 out of 100 rating, saying that while the singer did not replicate the edgy pop sounds of earlier hits on his "FutureSex" album, he "has offered us something more complicated, although no less accessible."
Rolling Stone magazine's Jody Rosen praised the singer for being "such a charismatic and effortlessly appealing singer, dancer and showman," and called the album "Timberlake's neo-soul record."
FROM HEARTTHROB TO ENTREPRENEUR
Timberlake has barely put a foot wrong in his transition from child star in the "Mickey Mouse Club" to popular boy band N'Sync, through to solo entertainer, actor and entrepreneur.
He has appeared in movies "The Social Network" and "Bad Teacher;" launched his own record label, Tennman Records; added clothing designer to his credits with label William Rast; and invested in social networking site MySpace.
His all-rounder status was showcased last week on "Saturday Night Live," where he sang, danced and acted - and boosted ratings for the NBC show to a 14-month high.
In July he will embark on a "Legends of the Summer" tour of North American stadiums along with Jay-Z, and the pair will headline a London music festival in the same month.
While "Don't Hold The Wall" - a steamy dance floor track with explicit connotations - harkens back to Timberlake's "Sexyback" days, Biel is often at the forefront of the singer's mind in the new album. "That Girl" is a sweet throwback R&B love song, while new single "Mirrors" is an ode to his new wife.
Los Angeles Times reviewer Mikael Wood gave the album three out of four stars, saying "Timberlake holds (the album) together too, with lyrics that stay resolutely on the topic of romance."
Not all critics are swooning. Alexis Petridis of Britain's Guardian newspaper gave "The 20/20 Experience" three out of five stars, but slammed Timberlake's lyrics, which he called "awful."
"It's not that the lyrics are exclusively about sex; it's that Timberlake writes about it in a way that suggests he's desperate to add some kind of musical equivalent of the Bad Sex award to his six Grammys and four Emmys," Petridis said.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Mohammad Zargham)