By James Mercadante
Justin Timberlake has dominated the Billboard charts several times since the genesis of his career with unforgettable songs like “Sexyback” and “Can’t Stop The Feeling.” Back in the spotlight, Timberlake has returned with his fifth studio album “Man of the Woods,” released on Feb. 2.
Timberlake’s newest 16 tracks off “Man of the Woods” consistently lack the aforementioned appeal of his earlier work due to his failed attempts in fusing incompatible genres of music together.
Fans who follow Timberlake’s career may give him the benefit of the doubt, as he was exploring his Tennessee roots and attempting to create an original body of work. Yet forgiveness may be more difficult for those who are not as loyal to the artist.
“Man of the Woods” has two personalities — half of the songs are funk, country and rhythm and blues with awkward blends of trap music, while the other half are folk and pop ballads.
The LP’s polarized sound is represented in the artwork, as there are split images of Justin in a suit and in a flannel shirt with denim jeans.
Timberlake was transparent with the album’s experimental nature, but he failed to execute it properly in light of the fact that he gives us blends of music that simply do not mix well.
From his first single, “Filthy,” audiences were exposed to a sonically displeasing track, as it opens with a rock-guitar solo and then abruptly transitions to a techno-funk beat, which pairs poorly with his effect-laden vocals and vapid lyrics.
“Haters gonna say it’s fake. I guess I got my swagger back,” Timberlake repeated in “Filthy.”
Essentially, it seems like the track took no effort to write. Its production and structure are messy, the chorus sound like verses, and his verses sound badly improvised.
Another failed experimentation was his second single, “Supplies,” as he incorporates a trap-inspired beat with a folk-pop melody and sings in a nasally voice: “I got supply-ay-ays.”
The majority of songs on “Man of the Woods” are disastrous, as most are pressed for energy and lead nowhere, but there are some notable tracks worth recognizing.
“Midnight Summer Jam” had the potential to be the lead single for this album, since it contains a marketability not present in the other songs. It brings the listener to the backlands of Tennessee with sweet falsettos and the delicious sounds of fiddles, harmonicas and acoustic guitars. While embracing the country lifestyle, this infectious song encourages listeners to sing and dance along.
“Y’all can’t do better than this, act like the south ain’t the shit,” Timberlake sings on the track.
One memorable ballad from this album, titled “Morning Light,” features Alicia Keys. Their voices compliment and bounce off of each other, as they both share the same amount of soul in their vocals, especially when they harmonized. This track is most suitable during a long car ride with the windows down, since the track exudes serenity.
Timberlake ends his album with “Young Man,” a song that serves as a tribute to his son, Silas. Silas means “Man of the Forest,” in Latin, which unveils more insight to Timberlake’s album title.
The song features snippets of his son’s voice saying “dada,” which provides the listener a warm feeling, but the lyrics are directed towards Silas, as Timberlake tries to convey the wisdom he has accumulated over the years. This song is a satisfying conclusion that makes the album feel more cohesive.
“It’s alright if you need to cry. You got my permission,” Timberlake sings, assuring his son that he is allowed to be vulnerable and should never be afraid of being himself.
“Man of the Woods” proves to be a self-discovery album, as Timberlake tackles topics like his self-assurance, early life and sexuality, and we get to see a vulnerable side of him. It is nice to see how he utilizes all that he has learned about himself to pass down to his son.
Timberlake had the right intentions, and the album certainly felt original, but its many chaotic, messy tracks cannot be ignored and drag the album down as a whole.