By JUN YUN
Justin Timberlake released his fifth studio album, Man of the Woods, just days before his solid performance at the halftime show of Super Bowl LII. While his Super Bowl performance deserved much praise, his newest album failed to receive similar applause from music critics. Man of the Woods draws influences from traditional R&B, pop and funk; however, the album fails to utilize its stylistic diversity to create innovative and exciting themes.
Man of the Woods is less dedicated to Timberlake’s typical futuresex beats and pop ballads. It contains a more rustic and experimental vibe, which strays from Timberlake’s iconic pop sound. Many of the sounds and beats of this album are exploratory, Timberlake’s attempts to incorporate newer styles into his repertoire. Unfortunately, this effort produces an album that lacks focus, with an awkward country style that does not match Timberlake’s pop specialty. His third studio album, The 20/20 Experience, which was produced by Timbaland, Timberlake, J-Roc and Rob Knox, contains a far more suitable sense of pop and soul, with powerful themes of romance and sex.
“Filthy,” the lead single from Timberlake’s newest album is slightly awkward, to say the least. It fits into an unusual genre, a clash between pop and contemporary electronic. Timberlake progresses from chorus to verse in this song, yet there is no distinctive lyric or rhythm that makes the song unique. The undulating electronic sounds are rather screechy and discordant.
The title track, “Man of the Woods,” is an even more confusing addition to the album. Many viewers may actually find comfort in the lighter, more cheerful harmonies of this song. However, it is still a misrepresentation of the musician that Timberlake is; the song’s guitar cadence does not contain the disco funk that inspires dance. After the success of The 20/20 Experience, it only seems proper that Timberlake continues to produce dancefloor grooves and beats.
The rustic country style, woodsy beats and love-of-the-wilderness attitude that Timberlake embraces continue throughout other songs as well. “Midnight Summer Jam” is an interesting listen because the harmonica sessions and strong drum beats complement each other nicely, producing a Southern quality and campfire vibes. “Say Something,” featuring Chris Stapleton, may be the most country-like song on the album; however, despite including a country superstar in his song, Timberlake fails to deliver an authentic return to his country origins. The 20/20 Experience was a far better musical product in terms of subtle, yet memorable, lyricism.
As the album progresses, it can be seen that Timberlake’s diversity of musical styles, including pop, country, funk and R&B, collides into an incomprehensible mesh. By the end, it becomes difficult to categorize the album and there is no coherent theme, despite the bucolic trend. This album, although including many of the same producers as The 20/20 Experience and FutureSex/LoveSounds, still struggles to emulate the successes of its predecessors. Man of the Woods may be an enjoyable listen during a camping trip, but it certainly does not improve Timberlake’s standing as a pop icon.