REVIEW: Justin Timberlake goes back to his roots in ‘Man of the Woods’

Justin Timberlake Man of the Woods

Justin Timberlake Man of the Woods

Alex Novak

Justin Timberlake is back and officially put everyone on notice that he’s changing things up.

What a week it has been for the now 37-year-old pop icon, celebrating his birthday in style with his brand new album release “Man of the Woods” and headlining the Super Bowl LII halftime show in Minnesota.

“Filthy” fiercely opens up the album, echoing his past work on the 2006 smash hit “SexyBack.” He bombasts this one with back and forth bass drive womps and a pair of rock guitar breaks to start his return to the mainstream.

“I guess I got my swagger back,” sings Timberlake.

The success of “Trolls” and its massive hit song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” can still be felt on this record, specifically in the pop-funk groove song “Sauce” and the reggae engaged “Wave.”

His album is full of exploration and some occasional experimentation. It may not be his best, but it is still a pure creation.

JT lets himself be truly open from start to finish, full of that wide-smile fun-at-times charm and then at his most sincere during others. It will make you want to get up out of your seat to dance and sing throughout. We can still see his old pop star tricks at work again in nearly every track.

He ultimately takes us back to his roots, to the music he says made him, after the brief dip in the music that made him the biggest pop star of the last decade.

Listeners get up close to his life as a husband with tracks like “The Hard Stuff” that illustrates his appreciation for a relationship built together through the struggle, and “Flannel,” where he offers his warmth for her to lean on when she’s broken.

Furthermore, it explores the culture of the South that he grew up with in Memphis with “Midnight Summer Jam,” a funky groove that pays homage to their lifestyle of wholesome hospitality; “Montana,” exploring the wonders of love’s rhythm and reach; and “Livin’ Off the Land,” which examines the hardships of blue-collar, working-class people.

Bringing in the guests for the middle tracks, “Morning Light” featuring Alicia Keys is a ballad that mirrors 70’s R&B and classic bubblegum pop.

“Say Something” delivers a perfect vocal mesh of melody and harmony between Timberlake and Chris Stapleton that develops into a bluegrass rock anthem with an important message for our current political climate.

The duo recognizes here that weighing in on issues of public concern can easily turn into a greater focus on the person and their image than how they’re serving the actual cause at hand, as we’ve often seen to be an issue this past year.

Heartfully, he addresses a sweet letter to his wife, actress Jessica Biel, and another to his 2-year-old son son, Silas, who is also the inspiration behind the album title. The song, “Young Man,” is a cute and upbeat title track and heartfelt closer.

“Hers (Interlude)” may be one of the most emotional one-minute tunes ever, and it perfectly turns the album toward its rustic, folk and homeward conclusion.

“Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all,” sings Timberlake and Stapleton together.

“But you gon’ have to stand for something,” he later writes to his song.

While it’s not exactly the full country sound that many people expected, this album creates a personal atmosphere that we haven’t seen fully from Timberlake before, and it blends the R&B and pop that we all know JT for unbelievably well with the funk and folk that originates from his southern home.

Alex Novak is an entertainment reviewer. Contact him at [email protected]