Five years after the release of “The 20/20 Experience,” Justin Timberlake returned to music Friday with his new album “Man of the Woods.” In the album, Timberlake calls upon his Southern upbringing and uses themes such as fatherhood and marriage as inspirations. Gone are the ascetics of a dapper Timberlake dressed in suit and tie, and in their place is a new Justin, wearing flannel shirts and ripped jeans.
While his music’s themes have changed, the sound has not. Much of the album is still full of the electrifying dance music typical of a standard Timberlake album. This one begins with the song “Filthy,” and ends with the song “Young Man.” As the album progresses, the songs’ tones change as well.
“Filthy” is a gritty, sexy dance tune, whereas “Young Man” is a soulful message from Timberlake to his son Silas. The album’s progression is representative of Timberlake’s journey over the last five years, to a loving husband and protective father. With these new themes of fatherhood and marriage, “Man of the Woods” is Timberlake’s most mature album to date.
In songs such as “Morning Light,” “Flannel” and “The Hard Stuff,” Timberlake draws from his undying love for his wife, Jessica Biel. He sings about wanting to protect her and stick with her through the good and bad. When I heard these songs, I was reminded of his earlier love- and heartbreak-inspired tracks such as “Cry Me a River,” and I realized the pure difference between those songs and those on “Man of the Woods.” Timberlake sings about Biel more lovingly than any woman before her. Through these songs, I felt that I was allowed a glimpse into their relationship, and that I was able to understand what makes their love so extraordinary. In “Morning Light,” he sings “In the whole wide world of guys/I must be the luckiest alive.”
The crown jewels of the album are its two collaborations: “Morning Light” (feat. Alicia Keys) and “Say Something” (feat. Chris Stapleton). In both songs, Timberlake puts the focus on Keys and Stapleton and, rather than trying to overpower their voices, pairs them together to create two songs to get lost in.
On almost every Timberlake album, listeners have come to expect catchy dance songs, and “Man of the Woods” is no exception. Timberlake includes songs such as “Filthy,” “Sauce” and “Supplies” in order to get the listener up on their feet and dancing. The only difference between these songs and the dance tracks from earlier albums is that these songs seem to stick together and become repetitive. When I went through these tracks, they stuck together in my head and left me feeling bored.
There was one notable exception, and that was “Midnight Summer Jam.” When I heard this song, I was immediately struck by visuals of a summer party. “Midnight Summer Jam” is an eclectic hit, which combines the music of a party in the south with the beat of a New York nightclub. This song needs to be preemptively added to your summer 2018 playlist.
“Man of the Woods” is a testimony to what’s happening in Timberlake’s life right now. He’s no longer singing as the young man who brought sexy back, and rocked nightclubs across the world. Rather, he is singing as the father who spends his days working and returns home at night to be with his family. Timberlake accepts that he will not be able to return to the sexy, dapper images and sounds of his previous works, but he doesn’t obliterate them completely. He combines the sounds of his past with those of his present, in order to craft a statement about his identity as a whole.