Justin Timberlake opens his fourth effort, Man of the Woods (out Friday, February 2), with a bold proclamation: “I got my swagger back.” Indeed.
Nearly five years after releasing his jazzy double album, The 20/20 Experience, the Memphis native rediscovers his roots with 16 personal tracks that weave together electropop, funk and hip-hop.
As on his 2006 record, FutureSex/LoveSounds, which spawned hits including “SexyBack” and “My Love,” Timberlake flirts with reverberating basslines (“Filthy”) and infectious choruses (“Breeze Off the Pond”). Standouts include a country-inspired collaboration with Chris Stapleton (“Say Something”); a dreamy, lovestruck duet with Alicia Keys (“Morning Light”); a modern take on ‘70s disco (“Midnight Summer Jam”); and the radio-friendly title track. Silas, Timberlake’s 2-year-old son with wife Jessica Biel, even makes an uncredited cameo on the closing track, “Young Man.”
Still, the highly anticipated disc, advertised in an early promotional trailer as rustic and campfire-ready, is neither Americana nor a reinvention. After all, the 37-year-old singer — who will headline the Super Bowl LII halftime show on Sunday, February 4 — joked at a recent New York City listening party, “I’m not going to go all Ray LaMontagne,” referring to the folk singer-songwriter.
And he doesn’t. Instead, Timberlake reunites with longtime collaborators The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams’ production duo with Chad Hugo), Danja and Timbaland, the brilliant minds behind much of the ‘NSync juggernaut’s early solo material.
Yes, these woods have been traveled before. That said, they’re still worth exploring.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
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