The title of the fifth studio album by Justin Timberlake, Man Of The Woods comes from the meaning of his first child’s name; Silas – meaning “man of the forest”, and leaves the rich and extravagant sounds of his previous effort The 20/20 Experience (2013) behind, for a more familiar Pop/R&B style for a large part of the album.
The familial links don’t end there though, as the album features recordings of his two year old son Silas, the return of old friends The Neptunes, and his wife Jessica Biel also appears on several tracks including an interlude entitled “Hers“.
Production credits include the likes of Timberlake himself, Danja, long-time collaborator Timbaland (who has been ever-present on Timberlake’s solo albums), and a long awaited reunion between Timberlake and The Neptunes; who helped mastermind much of his successful first solo effort after splitting from N*Sync, Justified, but have been noticeably absent from every LP since then due to label disputes.
With all this going on behind the scenes, Man Of The Woods should really excite, and to a certain degree, it does – but it doesn’t ever really take off like most would expect from a Justin Timberlake album, and instead, it remains quite mellow throughout.
The album opens strongly with the first single released from the album titled “Filthy“; with a raw, synth heavy, electro funk instrumental and Justin Timberlake’s usual R&B style lyrics accompanying. The beat has Timbaland and Danja’s fingerprints all over it with stylistic choices that are more than a little reminiscent to those they both employed on the 2006 LP FutureSex/LoveSounds.
“Filthy” treads on very familiar territory and it works really well although the synthesized style is not really continued on the remainder of the album, with the exception of “Supplies” and to a certain degree “Montana“.
“Midnight Summer Jam” is the second track on the album and our first listen to Justin Timberlake vocals over a beat produced by The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo in 16 years. As expected, the production is fantastic, with catchy refrains, a false ending, and succinct string and harmonica sections which keep the track ticking over (it’s easily the longest track of the album at 5:12).
“It’s just a midnight summer’s jam / The air’s so thin, but we don’t give a damn / The starry sky across the land / Where we pretend it’s our last chance to dance”
After these first two tracks, it’s clear that Timberlake decided to take some risks and experiment with his musical choices, at times departing from his signature style and exploring some new genres of music with varying results. Despite this, the production of each track does however continue to be mostly terrific.
On “Sauce” (a track that opens with a sample of a meme), Timberlake shows some range by singing in a few different styles but ultimately this comes off rather unassuming; a trait that continues for a couple of tracks before the album reclaims some focus with the bouncy and enjoyable “Wave“, a light hearted track about being alone with a loved one that doesn’t have much depth lyrically, but wouldn’t be out of place on any previous Justin Timberlake album.
“Supplies”, the antithesis of “Wave” (and another track produced by The Neptunes), makes a rather jarring appearance around the midpoint of the album. With obvious influences from the Trap genre and a repeated ad-lib sample that you wouldn’t usually expect of Timberlake, the track is seemingly about living in a dystopian world and Timberlake having the “Supplies” to keep a girl alive.
“Cause I’ll be the light when you can’t see, I’ll be the wood when you need heat / I’ll be the generator, turn me on when you need electricity / Some s**t’s ’bout to go down, I’ll be the one with the level head / The world could end now, baby, we’ll be living in The Walking Dead”
Complete with a Walking Dead reference and a dystopian music video, although unexpected; it’s a definite a highlight of the album and arguably the best track, although this could easily be contested down to individual tastes and the varying styles employed on the album.
At this stage in Timberlake’s career, a little experimentation is understandable (and perhaps warranted) to avoid stagnation and it’s glaringly obvious that his mind-set when making Man Of The Woods is vastly different from previous albums.
After sharing a track with Alicia Keys on the tranquil and soothing “Morning Light“, the album turns to the first of a few country genre infused tracks, with Timberlake perhaps re-connecting with his southern USA roots for “Say Something” featuring Grammy winning country star Chris Stapleton.
Ultimately Man Of The Woods feels like a project Justin has made in his spare time with his family; an album made for his son to hear and appreciate when he gets a little bit older, that he also happened to release for everybody. The closing track “Young Man” basically confirms this with the affirming song including life advice to a ‘young man’.
His recent parenthood has clearly has had a massive effect on his musical direction, although you wouldn’t notice it too much from just listening to the singles he has released which is perhaps a clever move.
Although a bit different to his previous works, Man Of The Woods certainly grows on you with each listen, it’s the kind of album that has tracks that you’ll skip frequently claiming not to like, only to change your mind later (which has made this review a nightmare) – especially with the album running for over an hour in length.
While it has to be said that Man Of The Woods is far from Justin Timberlake’s best work, it’d be unfair to call this project bad, because it differs from the rest, and Timberlake does succeed in trying out some new styles whilst maintaining just enough familiarity to not alienate listeners.
Justin Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods is out now via RCA Records, purchase it on iTunes here, and stream it below.
Words by Alex Shutti