Justin Timberlake has had an interesting couple of weeks, to say the least. He celebrated his 37th birthday, released his fourth studio album, Man Of The Woods, and performed at the Super Bowl. He should be on top of the world right now. However, there have been very mixed reviews on his latest project (let alone his halftime show performance). I let Man Of The Woods sink in a few days before giving my honest opinion. The truth is the album is solid. Is it his best ever? No. Should it be? Absolutely not.
The man who brought us hits like “Sexy Back”, “Cry Me A River” and “Suit and Tie”, was in a peculiar position during the making of his album. He continued to outdo himself with each album he released. The danger there is the goal eventually becomes making the next big hit; not the most artistically sound project. In comes the lead single, “Filthy”. Although it’s not as in your face as his previous lead singles, it’s a more mature sound. Remember, he’s 37 now. This isn’t old by any means, but he’s been in the music business for nearly 20 years.
If The 20/20 Experience was Justin Timberlake’s induction into manhood, then Man Of The Woods is him passing the torch to the younger generation. On songs like the upbeat jungle boogie of “Midnight Summer’s Jam” and the swagger laden “Sauce”, he proves he still remembers the sound that brought him solo appeal. This album is more about reflection, love and looking ahead into the future. Ironically, his vocals are reminiscent of a young George Michael on songs like the catchy, melodic title track, “Man Of The Woods”.
Justin Timberlake has teased elements of country music before and he dives right in on “Wave”. The song carefully blends country, soul and pop sounds in a tasteful offering. However, “Flannel” is one of the showstoppers of the songs that charter his new territory. In fact, I see this being one of the biggest songs from the album. His vocals are smooth and calculated, unlike the bombastic, hip hop driven hooks that inundate much of his catalog. Alicia Keys and Chris Stapleton stop by for some memorable guest appearances too. However, Justin Timberlake shines brightest when he’s the sole focal point (check out “Supplies” and “Breeze Off The Pond”).
At this point, Justin Timberlake has nothing to prove or explain. Except for the oft put Prince tribute during his half time performance. Oh and maybe a formal apology or admittance of his part in the infamous half time performance he shared with Janet Jackson 14 years ago. Nonetheless, Man Of The Woods may not be filled with his usual type of radio hits, but it’s proof that he at least tried to offer something new this time around.