Contrary to the Title, Justin Timberlake’s ‘Man of the Woods’ Is All Funk and R&B

Justin Timberlake is back on the music grind with his latest effort “Man of the Woods.” As the pop singer’s fifth studio album, this one uses an outdoorsy motif to express Timberlake’s love for family. The 16-track LP, out Feb. 2, may sound familiar to long-time JT fans as the singer brings back production help from The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) and Timbaland, the masterminds behind his debut solo album from 2002 “Justified.”

Much controversy has surrounded the release of the album, and understandably so. With a title like “Man of the Woods,” one could easily surmise the album would have a rootsy, folk feel with perhaps some country injection — and many fans expected just that. And then the public received his first two singles “Filthy” and “Supplies.” While both titles would suggest the same, the sounds were wildly different. “Filthy” incorporated dubstep and hip-hop bars while “Supplies” took to moody trap, including a “brrrr” or two, or three. And then there were the music videos with the former featuring a direct ode to Steve Jobs and virtual reality with “Supplies” looking to futuristic revolts and overwhelming CGI effects.

Then there’s the Chris Stapleton contributions. As one of the most celebrated country singers of the past few years, it was certainly exciting to see the two collaborating. Their duet came pre-release with “Say Something,” a decidedly pop-folk tune — if you can imagine such as thing. The two trade singing duties with production help from long-time JT collaborator Timbaland. The song crescendos into an all-out chorus before the two turn a timely platitude into something more intriguing: “Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.”

Like “Say Something,” many songs do in fact manage to embody the album cover. “Midnight Summer Jam,” at one point, uses a bouncy dance beat under a harmonica solo. The title track too contains a slide guitar — though a distorted one — and a Jack Johnson-style guitar progression to allow JT to seemingly bridge his obsession of the outdoors with his love for wife Jessica Biel; “I brag about you to anyone outside/But I’m a man of the woods, it’s my pride.” “Livin’ Off the Land” incorporates a wind flute opening before a driving bass is punctuated by a trap beat and choruses from the singer. “Flannel” too is run by a sentimental acoustic guitar with pops of electronics, and while “Montana” may seem to fit the title-narrative of the album, the song itself is a sensual Daft Punk-esque, funky R&B love song.

Timberlake addressed the controversy surrounding the album’s perceived theme before its release via Instagram. “By the way, the album is named after my son (Silas), okay. His name means ‘of the woods,’” he said in a Feb. 1 post, “So, stop telling me I’m making a country album.” This was, of course, all in good fun as JT went on to laugh about the misunderstanding.

All in all, the singer deserves credit for even attempting to bridge the increasingly long gap between the electronic, acoustic and thematic sides of music. After all, fan expectations are rarely met anyway. So, as an artist, why not just do you?

Man of the Woods” is available Feb. 2 on Apple Music.