By Salena Moran & Evan Penrod | Staff Writers
Just days prior to his Super Bowl LII halftime show performance, Justin Timberlake returned to the music world with his fifth studio album Man of the Woods. The former *NSYNC member premiered three of 16 total songs prior to the release of his record with current singles “Filthy,” “Supplies” and “Say Something.” In an attempt to “get back to his roots,” Timberlake ventures out with a bizarre and confusing folksy, pop and electronic scene that unfortunately disappoints.
Timberlake’s usual style and innovation is masked underneath country- and folk-sounding Americana style music that does not jive with what fans have come to expect from the Grammy awarded artist. This album is a stylistic jumble of his previous works that tries to tackle several different genres of music and fails to produce at least one memorable song.
Artists rightfully should experiment with their own styles and accept feedback from fans. For example, Lady Gaga’s Joanne (2017) revealed more of a country twist that worked with her traditional pop sound. The problem of a multi-styled/genre album like Man of the Woods, however, reveals that these stylistic endeavors must be done masterfully, and country does not belong in J.T.’s repertoire.
An artist’s progress manifests through their growth over the years and how they can adapt, while also staying true to their original style. In the past, Timberlake has pushed the boundary of what constituted a pop album, succeeding with the unique addition of Gregorian chant at the beginning of “Cry Me A River.” Man of the Woods differs greatly from his iconic lineup of albums. Certain tracks like “Her” feel like a waste, as Timberlake’s wife, actress Jessica Biel, simply speaks for a minute. Further, his collaboration with Alicia Keys on “Morning Light” sounds more of a laid back sample of a Jason Mraz song, practically offensive for her ability to showcase her powerful vocals.
While the songs seem to take up unnecessary space, the Man of the Woods tracks are also severely repetitive. Artists like Daft Punk accomplish dance/club hits where the continuous beats and lyrics fit with their style and audience. However, in this fusion of southern sounds, they just appear uncreative and lyrically dull. Essentially, Timberlake took a setback as an artist who has already pushed the boundaries of what makes his pop music fun, new and energetic.
This album plays it too safe with the basics of country and funk. Although Timberlake attempts something new for himself and his audience, the overall result does not live up to his previous albums. Despite this less-than-happy review, the sound on certain tracks like “Filthy” and “Midnight Summer Jam” are unique enough that you just have to hear them at least once in their entirety.
If you’re expecting something like “Rock Your Body” or “Suit & Tie,” this will not live up to expectations. Overall, Man of the Woods tampers with the typical Timberlake style in a way that seems void of any real impact or lasting impression, but its bizarre nature still deserves a listen.