Story by Isong Maro / Contributing Writer
Justin Timberlake has started off 2018 with an early year release, “Man of the Woods,” a project which has been marketed as the Memphis-born artist’s return to his roots. It’s his first full-length project since 2013’s double release, “The 20/20 Experience” and “The 20/20 Experience — 2 of 2.”
For this project, Timberlake continues his longtime creative partnership on albums with producer Timbaland. He enlists Virginia hitmakers, The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), whom he allegedly had been unable to collaborate with prior to this album due to label issues. Alicia Keys and fellow Tennessee native Chris Stapleton also make the cut on tracks “Morning Light” and “Say Something” respectively, with Stapleton additionally credited for playing guitar on the track “Filthy.”
Sonically, the album pulls from a wide range of influences including funk, R&B, country and neo-soul spanning across 16 tracks. Needless to say, it is not a straight-up pop record, and honestly, this should not come as too much of a surprise since Timberlake’s solo projects have typically been eclectic for a pop artist.
As far as the quality of the music, some of the songs on this record are rather indulgent. “Supplies” makes too much of a deliberate attempt to incorporate a lot of the popular trends, such as repetitive ad-libs and rhyme schemes, rampant in contemporary music of today. Thematically, the song doesn’t really go anywhere. On “Say Something,” however, Timberlake is at his best, singing over chorally backed instrumentals augmented by beautiful guitar chords and Chris Stapleton’s vocal performance adding a touch of class and soul.
Ultimately, this is a project that shows a pop artist approaching his 40s, at his most experimental phase yet. I recall this album being touted during its promotion as Timberlake’s version of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” Thematically, this is not necessarily true, and I would have likened this album more to Beyoncé’s eponymous 2013 album, which Timberlake had a hand in recording.
The perceived drastic change in direction for Timberlake with this project is actually more organic than one might think. The man is from Memphis, Tennessee. Whether or not Mr. Timberlake is looking to exploit his roots shouldn’t be up for debate but rather should remain a subjective debate. The only thing that should really matter is the quality of the music and, on that note, this is not a bad project.
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