The next chapter in the story of Justin Timberlake is finally here. Following a trio of tasty previews, the superstar’s fifth and most personal studio album Man Of The Woods is currently being consumed by the masses; its eventual fate yet unknown.
Billed as a folksy window into the realities that made Timberlake the man he is today, this grand creation feels more like an intersection of disjointed influences rather than one cohesive narrative. As evidenced with the album’s first three singles, the ultramodern “Filthy,” underwhelmingly simple “Supplies,” and pop-rock collaboration “Say Something,” this trend only continues throughout the rest of the sixteen tracks.
Old friends The Neptunes serve as co-producers on the bulk of the album, but even their set seems to be searching for an identity. Tracks like “Mignight Summer Jam” and title track “Man of the Woods” feature their signature sound but at this point in their storied career listeners are looking for a shifting sound. Take for instance “Flannel” and “Livin’ Off the Land,” cuts relying on a Justified era callback but are ultimately unfulfilling. Their strongest efforts, “Montana” and “Higher, Higher” however, boast a contemporary blend of bass and strings, slices of funky Americana outweighing their forebearers.
For a brief portion of the album, JT reunites with the pair behind his stardom skyrocket, Timbaland and Danja. Recreating some of that FutureSex/LoveSounds magic, the three crafted solid leads in the previously mentioned “Filthy” and Chris Stapleton standout “Say Something” only to further their genre-shattering prowess with the electronic charmer “Sauce.”
The remainder is served by a blend of all involved with assists from Rob Knox, Eric Hudson, Jerome Harmon, and James Faunterloy. “Morning Light,” a duet for the grown and sexy, is a straightforward groove but the back and forth between Timberlake and feature Alicia Keys sells the song on the spot. Their trade-offs sync as if the two had perfected the harmonies after years of close kinship, not in a single studio session. And then there is “The Hard Stuff,” the closest to country-pop this Tennessee kid has ever come across.
But perhaps the one song to attempt the homegrown motif the hardest is “Young Man.” Saved for the very end, the serenade to his son Silas is the entireties most intimate and reflective piece. Encompassed by a syncopated percussive sway and infrequent riffs, the track lets this loving father offer up words of wisdom captured through his experiences as this storied man of the woods.
As always though, Timberlake remains the album’s X-factor. His vocal presence threads the singular together with the whole, taking otherwise forgettable skips and elevating them to rotation fillers. And when you consider the private emotion behind the lyricism you’re left with a good, not great, project that longtime fans and newly minted supporters will appreciate.
Stream below and be sure to grab a copy of Man of the Woods for yourself courtesy of RCA Records.