After almost five years of not releasing any music of his own, Justin Timberlake is finally back on the music scene with Man of the Woods, an album that he describes as his most authentic and closest to his heart. In an interview with Zane Lowe of Beats 1 Radio, Timberlake said that he wanted to create a record that his toddler son Silas could listen to and enjoy. He really couldn’t listen to any of Timberlake’s earlier albums due to the content. Most of his inspiration for this album came from his wife Jessica Biel, his son, and his Southern hometown. A lot of the songs on the album have references to nature--another part of Timberlake’s Southern heritage that is incorporated into the album as a whole. He believes that the album is best listened to outside because of its references to nature and its Americana and country influence. The purpose of the tour for this album is to bring the outside in, which is not a common vision for a stadium tour, and is supposed to bring even more authenticity to the experience of the album.
Since Timberlake is from Millington, Tennessee, the hometown theme is especially relevant to nearby fellow Memphians. The imagery surrounding the album promotion is extremely similar to the landscape of middle Tennessee, where he currently has a house, although it is not especially reminiscent of the Memphis area. The stylistic shift of this album is also evocative of Southern musical styles: Timberlake describesthe sound of the album as “modern Americana with 808s,” which combines his signature sound with his Southern heritage. Drawing on his hometown influences and his new fatherhood creates a genuine sound to the album, unlike his previous albums which seemed to be just as experimental but more rooted in modern pop and inwardly focused. Timberlake said in his Beats 1 interview that “the previous albums were aspiration, but this album is inspiration.” This inspiration definitely shows in the shift of perspective in the songs and the combination of musical sonics and experimentation in the music.
After my first few listens, I was not super captivated by the album. But the more I listened and the more I researched Timberlake’s vision for the album, the more convinced I became of its uniqueness compared to his previous musical output. The significance of the lyrics and the influence of the contrast between his upbringing and his current music tastes make it an intriguing album. It has definitely grown on me over time, and my favorite songs are “Say Something” (featuring country artist Chris Stapleton), “Higher Higher,” “Morning Light” (featuring Alicia Keys), and “Montana.”
Text by Sarah Johnson