W hen Justin Timberlake released “The 20/20 Experience” five years ago after great anticipation from fans, the album opened with 968,000 sales and went on to become 2013’s top seller, according to Billboard.
For his latest release, “Man of the Woods,” which mingles country vibes with his distinctive and signature pop and funk, Timberlake once again has kept his fans waiting. This album marks Timberlake’s fourth Billboard No.1 album and is the best-selling album in the U.S. since Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” in December 2017, according to Billboard.
Advertised as a return to the singer’s Tennessee roots, “Man of the Woods” was released close to Timberlake’s performance at the Super Bowl halftime show, reminding us of his role in Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction in 2004.
During the halftime show, Timberlake donned a suit emblazoned with images of a wooded landscape and a bandana to match the theme of his album. Despite dancing more than he sang, his tribute to Prince and Super Bowl selfie with now internet-famous Ryan McKenna redeemed the underwhelming affair.
As for the album itself, Timberlake’s return to his roots feels incomplete, as standout songs like “Supplies” and “Filthy” gyrate persuasively around bombastic, sexual R&B. “Midnight Summer Jam” has the appealing, yet busy feel that Timberlake has mastered throughout the years, with heavy influence from Timbaland.
However, songs that actually stick to his proclaimed country theme fail, perhaps intentionally, to combine the rural with an edgy, digital aesthetic. “Flannel” is disappointingly flat, sounding almost like a lullaby. “Montana” lacks originality and resonates strongly with mainstream pop. Moreover, “Hers,” recorded with Jessica Biel, feels like it is trying too hard to be poignant.
Many tracks commence similarly, with excerpts of soundbites and a string instrument strumming in the background. While this may manifest his attempt at retrieving his roots, the songs lack the carefree, soulful tone that often comes with country music.
On another note, the songs “Higher Higher” and “Morning Light,” featuring Alicia Keys are my personal favorites, as they bring a semblance of authenticity back to Timberlake’s reputation.
Nonetheless, Timberlake clearly is still making headlines, currently with three songs in the top 20 Billboard songs chart: “Say Something” featuring Chris Stapleton, “Man of the Woods,” and his 2016 hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
Timberlake will kick off his world tour in Toronto in March, stopping by San Jose on Apr. 24-25 where he can hopefully “bring his sexy back.”