Justin Timberlake Wanders in Circles in “Man of the Woods”

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Dhiraj Nallapaneni
Opinions Editor

On Feb. 2, Justin Timberlake released Man of the Woods, his fifth studio album. The project is his first since The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 from 2013. In interviews, Timberlake promised to make an album that was more personal than ever before.

Justin Timberlake has never been afraid to take risks. Even while being one of the biggest celebrities in the world, his albums have always been filled with a spirit of experimentation that can’t often be found in pop music. Though most may know him for simplistic pop songs like “Mirrors” and “Can’t Stop The Feeling!,” Timberlake’s albums have always been filled with songs that challenge convention. Timberlake frequently plays with preludes, interludes, and breakdowns, often making songs that run longer then seven minutes and transition through several different sections.  

This album is definitely not Justin Timberlake’s greatest work. He has yet to surpass 2006’s brilliant Futuresex/Lovesounds, and at this point it is doubtful that he ever will. At the age of 37, Timberlake is past the point at which musicians usually produce their greatest work.

Man of the Woods makes apparent how significantly Timberlake’s perspective has changed in the last ten years. He has been married for more than six years and is now a father. Fans of Timberlake who are expecting him to make the same songs that he made as a bachelor are likely to be disappointed. Instead of making songs like “Sexy Ladies” and “Damn Girl,” Timberlake now makes songs that are family-friendly and somewhat cheesy.

On Man of the Woods, Timberlake also continues his trend of mixing Americana into his music. 2013’s The 20/20 Experience showed Timberlake trying out a wide variety of different influences. A standout track was “That Girl,” a soul-influenced love song with a very catchy recurring rhythm guitar line. Man of the Woods takes the sound of “That Girl” and stretches it across the length of entire album.

The album is almost entirely made up of love songs, with guitars being featured in almost every track. “That Girl” worked well on The 20/20 Experience because that album was filled with diverse tracks that covered a wide range of different genres. Man of the Woods plays with the same influence again and again, making the album seem boring and repetitive.

It seems as though Timberlake has stagnated with age. R&B as a genre has advanced and progressed over the past few years, with artists such as The Weeknd and Frank Ocean pushing the genre in new directions. Timberlake’s sound has not grown with the changes in the genre. He continues to play with the same influences that he played in his previous works, ignoring the evolving landscape around him.

There is some continuity with his previous works. There is no doubt that Timberlake is a talented singer, and throughout the album he displays his vocal chops. As always, Justin Timberlake works with some of the best producers in the world to create rich and unique soundscapes. Pharrell and Timbaland worked to produce much of the album. Like Timberlake’s previous work, the album features a large amount of beatboxing incorporated into the backing tracks.

Still, most of the tracks on the album are ultimately forgettable. Though Timberlake has never had much depth with his lyrics, Man of the Woods is filled with more clichés than ever before. One of the best songs on the album is “Morning Light,” featuring Alicia Keys. Even this song is a maudlin love duet that has been done many times before.

Justin Timberlake is past his prime. Most college students will have trouble relating to the music of a settled man. Though Man of the Woods does have a few songs that are worth a listen, the album does not come close to the standard that Timberlake set a decade ago. Though the album may be personal, it’s just not very good.