When Justin Timberlake suggests he’s going back to his roots — as he has in regards to his new album, “Man of the Woods” — what should we take that to mean?
Sure, the pop superstar was born in Memphis, where he says he learned to sing by soaking up Southern music by Johnny Cash and Al Green.
But Timberlake spent a goodly stretch of his youth as a cast member on “The All New Mickey Mouse Club,” which means that show business was at least as crucial to his foundation as any fishing trips he may have taken with his beloved grandpappy.
And what are the hallmarks of a career in show business, particularly for a young performer? Flexibility and adaptability — skills Timberlake later put to use in ‘N Sync as that typically mutable boy band moved with assurance from sleek Europop to glistening white soul to squirming electronic funk.
It’s that background that truly shaped the 37-year-old entertainer, who is set this weekend to play the Super Bowl halftime show for the third time. And it’s that song-and-dance man who we hear most clearly on “Man of the Woods,” Timberlake’s expertly appointed but emotionally inert homage to the place that he says made him.
For Timberlake, the American South may be home. But more than that it’s a collection of sounds and gestures — another piece of “sonic real estate,” as he put it in a recent interview with Apple’s Zane Lowe, just waiting to be colonized.
As always, his development of the place is an impressive, if shallow, aesthetic achievement.
(Excerpt) Read More in: Los Angeles Times