It’s pretty much impossible to fit the complex giant that is Justin Timberlake’s style under the umbrella of any one particular genre. Pop and R&B probably come the closest to covering it, but there’s so much more to his music. It’s also equally impossible to listen to Timberlake’s latest album without dancing along. It’s titled Man of the Woods, and he released it on Friday as the culmination of much teasing and marketing. He teamed up with The Neptunes and Timbaland to produce the album, but their collaboration is nothing new: both contributed to Timberlake’s 2002 album, Justified, as well as various other works throughout his career. Essentially, the new record incorporates folk and southern roots into his already well-established R&B style. In an interview with VEVO, Timberlake describes this unique blend as “modern Americana with 808s,” a combination that Timberlake hasn’t really experimented with until now.
Timberlake released “Filthy,” “Supplies,” and “Say Something” as singles on Jan. 5, 18, and 25, respectively, and they’re clearly some of the highlights of the album. Though Timberlake experiments with new sounds in Man of the Woods, he uses “Filthy” and “Supplies,” as well as “Higher Higher,” to adhere to the signature R&B style that has worked so well for him in the past. Timberlake features Chris Stapleton in the natural, open-sounding “Say Something,” which provides for quite a powerful duet—in fact, Stapleton just took home Grammy Awards last week for Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Song, and Best Country Album.
In songs like “Flannel,” “The Hard Stuff,” and the title track “Man of the Woods,” Timberlake asserts the rustic, mountain-man vibe that he seems to want to associate with the album—a very different look from his previous works like “Suit & Tie” from The 20/20 Experience. For these songs, Timberlake let his Nashville country music influences come to the forefront: “Man of the Woods,” for example, features happy, twangy guitar bends, as well as a I-IV-V-I chord progression that you’ll recognize from other popular feel-good songs.
Another noteworthy aspect of Man of the Woods is the energetic funk that makes many of the tracks so easy to dance to. Timberlake puts this aspect on display in songs such as “Midnight Summer Jam” and “Sauce.” In “Midnight Summer Jam,” he demonstrates his pride in his southern roots as he sings, “Y’all can’t do better than this … act like the South ain’t the shit.” There’s also a refreshing harmonica interlude that plays on top of itself, and the song’s funky rhythm guitar conjures the sound of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which is probably due to Pharrell Williams’s behind-the-scenes work in producing and recording both of the songs. “Sauce” takes a slightly different approach by inserting a fuzzy-sounding guitar riff under the vocals, and the chorus features a funky chromatic walk-down that feels like a breath of fresh air in the context of pop music.
His wife, Jessica Biel, seem to be another influence on the album. He samples her voice in the interlude track called “Hers.” In the bluesy, sweet-sounding track “Morning Light,” he begins the song by singing, “Every time there’s a new sunrise, I open up my eyes / And I say to myself, ‘In the whole wide world of guys, I must be the luckiest alive.’” This song is one of the standout tracks on the album—it features Alicia Keys, whose voice fits the song perfectly, and she and Timberlake both execute some intricate and beautiful falsetto runs.
Not all the songs give a positive or memorable impression—for instance, the reggae “Wave” feels out of place, even within Timberlake’s diverse repertoire, but Man of the Woods still gave me yet another reason to be a Justin Timberlake fan. The combination of his ever-so-cool R&B vibe and his feel-good songs make for a very admirable and consummate record.
Featured Image by RCA Records