Justin Timberlake's Man of the Woods: What You Need To Know
The last time Justin Timberlake delivered a new studio album it was so epic it had to be split into two parts, with two instalments of The 20/20 Experience arriving in March and September of 2013, between them offering a total of 21 new tunes from the former NSYNC man. Five years on, Timberlake is back with his fifth studio album, one which he says is inspired by his wife, his son (the album's title is taken from the meaning behind his son's name, Silas) and his southern roots.
So has JT made a country album? No, he hasn't, but there are some definite southern vibes on the new record. It's called Man of the Woods, it arrives in stores today and here's everything you need to know...
A little background...
After an extensive world tour in support of The 20/20 Experience, Timberlake embarked on some hard-earned downtime and took a year out to relax and plan his next moves, returning to the studio in 2016 to work on the soundtrack for Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn's animated adventure Trolls, a project which yielded the massive hit 'Can't Stop The Feeling'.
Discussions about the new album reportedly began shortly after the 20/20 Experience Tour had wrapped, but plans were put on hold when Timberlake's wife, Jessica Biel, became pregnant with their first child, who was born in 2015. Work on the album resumed the following spring, with the singer talking about the southern-inspired direction of his new music. The new album was announced early in January this year along with an accompanying tour and the album's lead-off single, 'Filthy', which dropped on January 5th.
Who's producing it?
Longtime collaborator Timbaland is one of several producers who have worked across the whole of the new album, along with his partner Danja, but Man of the Woods is also the first time since his solo debut Justified that Timberlake has worked with production duo The Neptunes, aka Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. Timberlake revealed in a recent interview with Zane Lowe that a contract dispute between Pharrell and Timberlake's former label Jive had prevented them from working together, but the duo are the other main producers on the new album and there are also production credits for J-Roc, Eric Hudson and Rob Knox.
Any special guests?
Alicia Keys is one of two featured artist on the new album, putting in an appearance on 'Morning Light', while the other guest is Grammy-winning country star Chris Stapleton, who appears on 'Say Something'. There are also two uncredited appearances from Jessica Biel, with Timberlake's wife contributing vocals to 'Filthy' and a short interlude named 'Hers'. Pharrell also pitches in with backing vocals on the album's second single, 'Supplies'.
What does it sound like?
The album kicks off with 'Filthy', a funky opener with a squelching synth bassline and “haters gonna say it's fake” hook that Timberlake describes as a “palette cleanser”, and as the album progresses it does seem like something of a red herring in the context of the rest of the album's 16 tracks.
Timberlake has spoken a lot in recent weeks about the album being heavily inspired by his upbringing in America's deep south, leading many to wonder if the new album might represent a major shift in style.
But this isn't what you'd call a country album by any stretch - in fact, Timberlake himself has described it as “modern Americana.... with 808s”. The southern influences aren't always immediately obvious, but lift the verse melody from 'Supplies' away from its stuttering trap beats and it wouldn't sound out of place at an old-fashioned country hoedown.
Of course, 'southern' isn't just a euphemism for country music and Timberlake will know that his hometown of Memphis played a formative part in the careers of a diverse range of artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Blues legend B.B. King, to name a handful. As such, the singer seems keen to pay homage to the region's rich musical history and there are a broad range of styles and influences on display here, from Chris Stapleton's mournfully twanging guitars on 'Say Something' to the title track's upbeat nods to one of Memphis' most famous record labels, Stax.
Does it deliver?
Timberlake has described Man of the Woods as his most personal album yet and beyond the channeling of his southern roots in a musical sense, that's also true of his lyrics on the new album, which address his new status as a parent, his marriage and the influence of the southern environment of his own upbringing. The result is an album with all the radio-friendly mass appeal you'd expect from a Justin Timberlake album, but it's somehow more genuine here than ever before. Pharrell deserves some credit for teasing out the best in his charge and Timberlake is at the top of his game here.