The man, the myth, the legend returns! Riding the marketing stream of a Super Bowl Halftime Show, Justin released his new album “Man of the Woods” Feb. 2. The album marks a bold sonic change after his 2013 release “The 20/20 Experience.”
The album was announced just over a month ago with a trailer which Timberlake released on his social media accounts. Footage of him running through the woods and talking about his Tennessee roots led many to believe that this was going to be a country album. Then the singer released the divisive, futuristic track “Filthy.” It was obvious that a country album was not on the horizon.
In full, the album tries to mesh Americana with his traditional rhythm-and-blues pop outfit. The album features production work from his famed collaborators Timbaland and Pharrell’s production duo The Neptunes. With all the prolific talent present, it’s hard to imagine this not working as great as it has for JT in the past.
But most of the album is a dud. The songs are repetitive, and seem unsure of themselves. Even the best songs go on for too long. The interlude voiceovers from Jessica Biel make the whole experience even more of a fever dream.
Timberlake has said the album was largely inspired by his son Silas. In fact, the album’s title, “Man of the Woods,” was chosen after looking up the definition of his son’s name. The closing track “Young Man” is an open letter giving advice to his son. That’s the only track that feels inspired by fatherhood.
Most of the album is about his wife Jessica Biel, or at least I hope it is. Their sexual relations make up a large portion of the thematic content. But none of it is as instantly grabbing as one would expect from the man who once brought sexy back.
A problem that persists throughout the album is the truly lazy lyrical work. It’s bad. Take for example this blunt innuendo from the song “Sauce”: “I like your pink, you like my purple.” Seriously? It’s hard to believe this is coming from a room of men approaching or in their forties.
Maybe we have grown to expect deeper lyrical content since Justin Timberlake last came around. There isn’t a song here that makes you feel convinced he can really write a song that connects in 2018. Even the closing track dedicated to his son “Young Man” has some lyrics that make him seem wildly out of touch.
However, there are some really great moments on the album. “Midnight Summer Jam” is a really fun song, and probably the best combination of the two genres Timberlake aims to fuse. It’s an ode to nights outdoors with friends in the summer season. The track is a tight hip hop drum kit under an acoustic guitar loop and fiery fiddles. There’s a nice harmonica solo in the middle too.
“Supplies” is another album highlight. This track is one of the least influenced by country music. In this song, we are at the end of the world and Justin Timberlake wants you to know that he is a “generous lover.” It’s not perfect by a longshot, but it is perhaps the most recognizable Justin Timberlake song on the album. The hook is very catchy too.
The two duets are the strongest songs on the album. “Morning Light,” which features Alicia Keys, is a beautiful, soulful song. It captures domestic bliss in a way that isn’t done (well) often.
“Say Something” with Chris Stapleton is the only nod to the current political climate on the album. And it’s barely a nod at that. It waxes poetic on the ever-present question: what can you say without offending someone these days? But, it does no more than ask the question because as the song says: “Sometimes the best way to say something is to say nothing at all.” It’s a little frustrating but the song is one of the most enjoyable to listen to.
Other than that, there isn’t much here to salvage this mess. “Living Off the Land” has a great pre-chorus and hook that sound straight out of an old western but the verses ruin the song as a whole. “The Hard Stuff” could be a filler track on an album by Blake Shelton or Thomas Rhett or literally any country radio star. It feels so generic that it’s hard to feel he’s sincere.
“Man of the Woods” was a bold experiment by Justin Timberlake, but it’s one that I doubt will end up paying off. It’s a long album (65 minutes) without much to say and zero cohesion. After a five-year gap in Timberlake’s discography, it’s hard not to see this as a major disappointment.