by Sunny King
Justin Timberlake returns from out of the woods for his fourth studio album to take his stance as “Man of the Woods”. This album radiates with heavy and modernized funk and jazzy undertones; this is where he excels and he knows it. However, the audience gets a taste of a new version of Justin as he experiments with a country-esque, outdoor-loving man territory in music. With the excitement of just dropping this album, a Super Bowl performance and an oncoming tour, Justin Timberlake comes back to the scene with an introspective, firm grasp to his roots while experimenting with new melodies. However, with mixed feelings on this album, does the man of the woods deserve to stay in it or not?
Woody, hip hop, pop, R&B, or country…What’s going on?
Popular themes on this album are nature, family, confidence, working hard for the “American Dream”, and sexual tropes as well. The natural theme can be shown in songs like “Livin’ Off the Land”, “Man of the Woods” (as one can expect), and “Breeze Off the Pond”. Family is highlighted lovingly with songs such as “Young Man”, a sweet ballad Timberlake wrote for his young son. It can be seen in his lyrics but also with the clips of his family dispersed throughout the song. Another instance of a syrupy sweet song, that is complemented by Alicia Keys’ velvet voice, is “Morning Light”. A song about a caring memory with a significant other and that moment of being together, real and vulnerable. In addition to demonstrating nature, “Living Off the Land” also shows a theme that hard work pays off. It pays tribute to the stereotypical “American Dream”. The last relevant idea that is common in American music today is sexual tension. This is represented by the deep bass line in “Filthy” and flirtatious vibes of “Supplies”.
With all of these overlapping themes, it is easy to see how it can cause conflicting feelings as a listener. It seemed as Timberlake knows what he is comfortable with, but tried to also experiment, while not fully committing to either. However, it could have been an attempt to appeal to multiple crowds. For instance, if someone is a fan of Justin Timberlake’s normal, iconic sound they would more likely enjoy songs like “Montana” or “Midnight Summer Jam” due to the fact that the musical texture (instrumentation, pulse/beat, etc.) are very similar to his previous works. In comparison, “Livin’ Off the Land” can attract a listener that may not commonly interested in his work.
Favorites and recommendations straight from the heart of the woods
There is one artist that instantly came to mind that I would recommend after listening to Justin Timberlake and that is Bruno Mars. Bruno Mars shares that same style of incorporating and renewing old fashions of funk and jazz music. Jay-Z would be the second artist I would recommend, due to the fact J.T. and Jay-Z have worked together on multiple projects. They have heavily influenced each other’s sounds, so I recommend checking his work out. I would also recommend Beyoncé because she’s worked with J.T. as well and they share the same passions for striving to be individualistic. They also share the classic, generic poppy undertones that reappear in their songs, which is not always a bad thing since both artists have used this to their advantage to tie themselves to the culture.
My favorite song from the album is “Morning Light (feat. Alicia Keys)”. It’s slow but not boring and has an upbeat vibe to it, meaning it doesn’t drag the listener along. “Buttery velvet” is the perfect way to describe Alicia Keys’ feature on the track. A track like this begs for a feature like Alicia Keys. My next favorite, “Sauce”, is really fun; you just want to dance to it. “Sauce” really makes you think of ’70s funky, lively pop. It sounds like a distant relative to the song “American Woman” by Guess Who. The final best song from the album is “Filthy”. I do have to agree that it really differs sound-wise from the rest of the album, but it is a bop. Admittedly, the monologue at the end is a bit odd, but it plays to album’s theme in a strange way. Its seems out of place, like it was stretching to tie the song to the theme of a man in the woods. It opens the entire story with a brash heavy opening that settles into this dubstep-like funk, demonstrating Justin’s strong suits. It seems like a sibling to his earlier hit “Sexy Back”. It seems like he wanted that explicit vibe to reference the past hit, like he is giving thanks to his past. Then the brash entrance returns for a moment as a reminder that we are thanking the past, but this is the next chapter.
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Featured image from HipHop-N-More
Man of the Woods
Justin Timberlake has used his artist/creator’s freedom on "Man of the Woods" and experimented with new melodic themes that differ from expectations set by past works. Justin describes it as a very introspective and personal album; it encompasses many themes and styles which can be difficult to understand at times, but still interesting overall. With so many sounds, it can appeal to a wide range of audiences, however, it can be off-putting to the expectations of long-time listeners. A large amount of the pieces can leave the listener thinking, “I’m not sure how to feel about that”, while for others it could be their cup of tea.