Justin Timberlake’s last album- A two disc extended play of infectious extravagant grooves, “The 20/20 Experience” sees Timberlake thrive in his element of soul, funk and r&b inspired pop. Billboard topping hits like the Jay-Z assisted “Suit & Tie” or the melodic “Mirrors” reinforced the former N’Sync frontman as an undeniable superstar, so when rumors flooded the internet that Mr. Sexyback himself was getting back to his country roots, it immediately brought more suspicious than negative criticisms of what would be his fifth studio album “Man Of the Woods.”
Before I go into my review of feelings about MOTW, I want to briefly praise JT’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. Though it wasn’t the most unpredictable, high energy performance everyone likely expected, it highlighted the soulful and stylish grandiose of the pop swooner’s music. Timberlake’s song selection included career- defining party jams like “Senorita” and “Rock Your Body,” which have rightfully aged and in my opinion were appropriately tracklisted to be at the earlier part of the halftime show. There were jazzy pockets in almost every transition of the singer’s performance, for example the “Senorita / Sexyback” breakdown was filled with just as much momentum as it was eargasmic (“Suit & Tie,” Marching band assisted bit was fire too). And then the Prince Tribute ( *que DUH, DUN, DUUUUNNNN) was perfect. The simplicity, the never-before-seen video clip, and how well “I Would Die 4 You” mashed with what debatably is Justin Timberlake’s best R&B cut, “Until The End Of Time.” Like C’mon.
You can’t totally discredit Justin Timberlake’s musical discretion for his Super Bowl Halftime Show, but you can for “Man Of The Woods.”
What was expected to be a country-meets-pop album of interesting sounds and exciting pursuits, flopped as a rather confusing concept of clashing noise and velocity. The first track “Filthy,” goes entirely against the Americana aesthetic Timberlake was suggesting for “MOTW.” It sounds like a left-over from his third album Future Sex/Love Sounds. Moving through the first half of the album, songs like “Midnight Summer Jam,” “Sauce,” and “Wave” are fun, yet familiar. While you can hear sounds of strings, it stays a little too content with beat-driven instrumentals. It’s not up until Track Nine- “Say Something,” featuring Chris Stapleton where Justin’s sounds and lyricism pushes the music into something more unique. “Say Something” is quite profound in that it creates an unconventional country song. A simple hand clap and a couple water drops gives a percussive pulse to the single, while a piano lightly steers the song around Timberlake’s and Stapleton’s buttery vocals. As the album gets more personal with an interlude by JT’s wife Jessica Biel, the music is stronger in integrating southern, country sounds. “Flannel” sounds like a contemporary campfire song, with heavy acoustics and tumbling 808’s. “Montana,” and “Breeze Off the Pond” are danceable and displays compelling falsettos and strings, but “Hard Stuff” gets the closest to a modern country track in that it allows the harmonica and fiddle to take center stage. The very last track “Young Man” is an upbeat, deep cut that celebrates the pop superstar’s 2-year old son Silas.
Overall, “Man Of The Woods,” is an awkward, yet enjoyable work. The reception will matter all in the level of expectation, and that’s where this album goes South (no pun intended). Being that “MOTW” shows Timberlake’s short boundaries of exploration with other genres, it’s leading me to believe that this is the peak of his artistic creativity, but I could be wrong.