On his second album, Justin Timberlake leapfrogs from the Off the Wall -era Michael Jackson pose he adopted for his hit debut Justified to Dangerous -era Jackson . Timberlake's got himself a disc of gleaming, oft-chilly, mechanized surfaces with state-of-the-art, megabucks production (he co-produces with Timbaland on most tracks). Just as Jackson seized on the sound of the day to stay contemporary then, so goes Timberlake.

This “is” the sound of radio's beat-driven R&B music. Timberlake, however, lacks a distinctive vocal personality. On some tracks, he's overwhelmed by the pumping, futuristic machinery powering these R&B workouts and winds up anonymous.

The first single, “SexyBack,” is all production gimmickry but its nagging hook burrows so deep you'll hate yourself for liking it. It's also become an instant pop culture catchphrase. Having Al Gore quote “bringing the sexy back” on MTV's Video Music Awards doesn't hurt.

The title song rides its “Another One Bites the Dust” rhythm to good effect and the Prince-worthy “Lovestoned” is leagues beyond 'N Sync. “What Goes Around” rewrites Justified's Britney kiss-off “Cry Me a River.” Either JT hasn't gotten over her yet or Cameron has some explaining to do. Most of the remaining tracks rely too much on high-tech studio knob-twiddling and too little on melody. Some thrillers, to be sure, but no Thriller.