Justin Timberlake recently performed at Superbowl LII in Minneapolis, generously treating the adoring crowd to some of his greatest hits from the previous years. Sexyback, Senorita, Cry Me A River; Timberlake dug out the classics. Sadly, this album pales in comparison to the pop powerhouse he was back then, but there are remnants of the musical star, whilst embracing his roots as a Tennessee man.
The album begins as you would expect a Justin Timberlake album to begin; synth pop, with a pumping bassline and a proud swagger from the man himself, unmistakably emphasised when he says, “I guess I got my swagger back”. For the first track of the album, Filthy, you almost believe him. The song reeks of Timberlake’s earlier work, like Sexyback, where he grinds his way through the spacial funk and futuristic thuds to pump you up and keep you going all night long. The second track, Midnight Summer Jam, is intruded upon by a forced harmonica solo, in some thinly veiled attempt to try and tap into the southern roots of Timberlake’s history in the first half of the album. Followed by Sauce, another grinding pop song, the album finally arrives at Man of the Woods, the first song where we get a small glimpse into the southern inspiration Timberlake took for the album.
‘Young Man does its best to prove that Timberlake has left behind his old life, choosing instead to be the family man’
The second half of this album however, is where Timberlake really earns the title. Moving on from the iconic sex symbol of his youth, Young Man does its best to prove that Timberlake has left behind his old life, choosing instead to be the family man that wife Jessica Biel needs him to be with their son Silas, whose coos of “dada” can be heard throughout the track. Just before that, the penultimate track of the album is The Hard Stuff, which is perhaps the strongest advocate for the title of the album. Slow and rhythmic, Timberlake seems determined to prove that he is capable of dealing with hard times and things that come his way, within his family life or outside of it.
The two collaborations on the album, Morning Light with Alicia Keys, and Say Something with Chris Stapleton, are some of the best tracks, ranging from calm and vocally pleasing, to a repetitive plodding track, perhaps indicative of the woods and farmland lifestyle Timberlake is referencing in other songs such as Montana and Livin’ Off The Land. Despite his best attempts to make this a “country” album however, Timberlake can’t help but put his trademark pop rhythms and beats to almost every track, making it hard to define this album as the return to his roots that he wanted it to be.
Timberlake struggles to truly return to the woods of Tennessee, instead swamping himself in the beats and rhythms that dominated his early career, and overshadow some memorable country and solemn tracks on this otherwise underwhelming album.