By Scott T. Sterling
From the moment it was officially announced, Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods has generated a whirlwind of rumors, innuendo and controversy.
The title alone had many trumpeting that the pop superstar was pulling a reverse Taylor Swift and “going country.” Others accused him of simply aping contemporary country music culture in an appeal at a wider audience.
Listening to Man of the Woods, the reality is far less sensational. As an artist who emerged from NSync into a fully formed pop star with the release of his 2002 solo debut, Justified, Timberlake has continually taken bold risks in ongoing efforts at staying at the vanguard of modern music and pop culture at large. His new album is no exception.
With the futuristic sheen of “Filthy,” an attempt at recreating the then-shocking effect “Sexyback” had upon its initial release in 2006, Man of the Woods finds Timberlake again delving into new territories hoping to shake things up in the world around him.
These are the 5 best songs on Man of the Woods.
With Timberlake re-teaming with the Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) for a number of tracks, the trio recaptures the bright, feel-good vibes that made Justified such an instant hit on this cool and melodic track.
This one probably shouldn’t work. Somehow, Timberlake throwing caution to the wind and going hard with the Neptunes on a full-blown trap-style club banger comes together into a track that will actually bang in Vegas clubs.
The first of two Chris Stapleton collaborations on Man of the Woods is the clear standout. The two share a similar genre-blurring aesthetic, with Stapleton’s genuine roots a strong foil for Timberlake’s pop experimentalism.
“Breeze Off the Pond”
Another Timberlake/Neptunes gem. Justin assumes a smooth, Stevie Wonder-like singing style on the relaxed, soul-pop track brushed with lush background vocals. The top-down summer road trip jam of the album.
Timberlake teams with Alicia Keys on this cool, breezy tune. Key’s laid-back and subtle performance gives the track a warm, sultry appeal, and meshes well with Timberlake’s controlled delivery. Like with the Stapleton tracks, Timberlake lets the featured artist lead the track and infuse it with their own personality.