So, Justin Timberlake is back with a new album called Man of the Woods. He’s been in and out of the music world the last couple of years, preferring to hone his, uh, “craft” when it comes to acting. Timberlake’s forays into acting have been embarrassing messes (Friends With Benefits) and now he’s gotten what was supposed to be his big break, an appearance in Woody Allen’s latest film. The film might not get a theatrical release, since Allen is at long last taking heat for allegations that he molested his daughter, Dylan Farrow. One would almost feel sorry for Timberlake’s timing on this if he wasn’t such a manufactured talent robot to begin with, the type of guy who ripped off Janet Jackson’s bodice during a Super Bowl and then watched as America sent her career into a puritanical tailspin while he pretended not to be a part of the incident. Jackson was banned from the Grammy Awards that year, and Timberlake took home three wins. He failed to support her and he, like Allen, took none of the heat, never apologized and didn’t defend her.
The NFL has come calling again, and with Timberlake set to appear at another Super Bowl Halftime Show, it was time to release a new album. His last album, 2013’s The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2, was less of a bloated vanity project than the one that came before it, but it was still largely forgettable. That album coincided with Timberlake’s performance at the Country Music Awards with Chris Stapleton, a back-to-the-land country singer who immediately eclipsed Timberlake. The words used to describe Stapleton include “authentic” and “real” and “roots.” Naturally, that performance and his resulting friendship with the breakout star gave Timberlake an idea: what if he doubled down on his own Tennessee roots?
The result is the bizarrely titled and styled Man of the Woods. The branding here is all Tennessee country, but the production team remains the same: leftover pop music from last decade. Timberlake is promoting the record by wearing flannel and boots, but the music isn’t Americana, country, or roots-tinged. It’s just more warmed over pop music, absent true hooks, without dancing or costumes, and the whole thing just falls flat.
All of Justin’s favorite producers return for Man of the Woods: the Neptunes, Danja and Timbaland. But Justin has not updated his sound, nor has he invited some new collaborators to change up his sound. Instead, he’s still imitating Michael Jackson and pretending to be the dopest practitioner of hip-hop around.
There are a few songs that are worthy of praise, like “Higher Higher,” with its rocking beats and soaring vocal performance. The song “Montana” is somewhat listenable. Artists who are able to evolve as songwriters usually age better in the music industry, but Timberlake’s horny 21-year old peans to sex sound stupid when crooned by a 37 year old. On the song “Sauce,” he literally sings Ooh, I love your pink, you like my purple / You must be God herself, can I come worship? On the title track, Timberlake thought it was a good idea to describe sex thusly: “But then your hands talkin’, fingers walkin’/Down your legs, hey, there’s the faucet.” Gross. If this is what passes for JT pillow talk, we feel bad for Jessica Biel.
On “Young Man,” Timberlake attempts to write a song for his son, Silas, but it’s an embarrassing mishmash of trite platitudes like “ You don’t understand, right now you’re a young man / You gon’ have to stand for something.” (What does Timberlake stand for? Nothing.)
But that’s not all. The song features a horrifying minute-long interlude where Biel rhapsodizes about how sexy she feels when she wears his shirt. Are you cringing yet?
Unlike his peers, Timberlake isn’t exposing his own feelings and emotions as he ages (see Jay Z and Beyonce if you want artists who are bearing their soul). All of this would be fine if the album wasn’t promoted as “who Justin really is,” which raised expectations which are not met. The album’s trailer shows Timberlake building fires, looking manly in the creek and looking like he’s about to hit up the local woodshop. The video for the title track shows him dancing with Biel in a log cabin. Does anyone really believe Timberlake is a flannel-wearing country boy who just wants to kick it in the woods? If that was the thesis for this album, then Timberlake just failed his dissertation.