Herald rating: * * *

All of a sudden it's pop blockbuster season. You can't move for albums that are "major priorities" on record company release schedules.

They're mostly by folks that can get by with their first name and whose sales will decide the health of the music business for this final quarter. Two of the biggest releases are these - both second solo albums by a former boy band and a former girl group member.

Though, yes of course, Destiny's Child were a superior pop force than 'N Sync could ever be. But now they're solo, both having released their debuts back in 2003. And again there's a certain symmetry in having the New Michael Jackson and the New Diana Ross releasing albums at the same time.

Timberlake was a revelation on his first outing, Justified, a vibrantly funky album that owed more to Jacko than Jacko owes to whoever is backing his career now.

But having successfully stood for the position of the New Michael Jackson last time round, on the new one - and thanks to the production dominance of Tim "Timbaland" Mosley - it sounds like now Timberlake wants to be the new Prince.

And frankly, that's quite another matter.

As a blockbuster, it's one to admire for the sonic special effects rather than the storyline or the acting. Timberlake's name is on the front but it can sure sound like the Timbaland show. The producer's angular synthesizer crunch is all over it - at best on the single SexyBack where they dispense with a chorus, leaving the song sustained by its vocal fireworks, electrofunk and Timberland's repeated declaration that "I'm bringing sexy back." Where exactly sexy went is wisely left unanswered.

Where the album goes, however, is slightly awry.

It sounds vital for the first half of its 12 tracks but by the time it reaches the hip-hop tag-team of Chop Me Up it seems to run out of vitality.

Instead, we get the likes of boy band hangovers Summer Love and Until the End of Time, a misguided attempt at social commentary on Losing My Way, and to close All Over Again, a Rick Rubin-produced sore thumb of a vintage soul track.

It's an album which, because of early offerings like the slap-bassed Prince-ish Sexy Ladies and the prowling funk of Lovestoned, sounds like it's promising to top Justified. But just as Justin has on the cover, it drops the (mirror)ball and leaves things a little shattered.

Verdict: Pop golden boy delivers great single in SexyBack but not much else grabs.

Label: SonyBMG