Justin Timberlake, Man of the Woods | Album Review
Former heartthrob Justin Timberlake returns with his highly-anticipated fifth studio album, ‘Man of the Woods,’ which he describes as “modern Americana with 808s.”
“I think the album has a wide range of sonics to it, but, I guess I would describe it as modern Americana with 808s.” Justin Timberlake returns with his highly-anticipated fifth studio album, Man of the Woods. As aforementioned, Timberlake describes Man of the Woods as a modern Americana album. The question is, is Man of the Woods really Americana? At times, but more often than not, this is a lengthy pop-soul album that’s ‘all over the place.’
On “Filthy”, Timberlake works with familiar collaborators Timbaland and Danja. The production is sleek and modern, dominated by a sick beat, and a variety of synths. Stylistically, he maintains urban-pop sensibilities, slated somewhere between the soul of old and modern pop. His chanted, tongue-n-cheek vocals, exhibit hip-hop vibes without the ‘bars.’ “Filthy” is fun, but, there’s little legit songwriting; it’s devoid of depth and lyricism.
“Midnight Summer Jam” reunites Timberlake with The Neptunes – Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo – for the first time since Justified in 2002. The production, thrives off of its funky groove and distinct, Neptunian sounds. The rhythmic guitar coupled with that signature JT falsetto deserves some love. Furthermore, the chorus is catchy, even if the song – rather record – is a bit odd.
The percussion-heavy “Sauce” finds Timberlake exhibiting mad personality, and flaunting his sick falsetto. The production continues to define Man of the Woods, with Danja handling the boards. Following an intro about “juice,” a fusion of pop, rock and R&B commences. “Sauce” is more novel and tongue-in-cheek as opposed to transcendent.
“Man of the Woods”
“Man of the Woods” is the first record that somewhat fits “modern Americana with 808s,” blending country, pop, and hip-hop. Does it work seamlessly? Eh – “Man of the Woods” won’t be getting airplay on country stations anytime soon. But, it’s charming and interesting, and again, the production work of The Neptunes is distinct as ever.
Williams and Hugo remain aboard on “Higher Higher,” which doesn’t sound too distant from the aforementioned “Midnight Summer Jam.” Among highlights are the vocal harmonies, as well as being treated with more of Timberlake’s lower and middle register. “Wave” sports more sleek production, in addition to being gimmicky and quirky. While there’s plenty to admire, it’s also an acquired taste. Over-repetitiveness and length holds back “Wave.”
“Supplies” features unique, modern, and sleek production work. There are 808s and middle-eastern flavored synths. Justin Timberlake delivers quick-paced, rhythmic vocals, infused with hip-hop influence. The pre-chorus is rhythmic, chocked-full of swagger. The chorus is repetitive, simplistic, and devoid of depth. Even so, it’s catchy as a four-letter word, expanded syllables and all (“‘Cause I got supplie-ie-ies / Supplie-ie-”). There is no shortage of gimmicky moments, but ultimately, “Supplies” plays to Timberlake’s strengths.
“Morning Light” welcomes the first of just two collaborators on Man of the Woods, Alicia Keys. A slick urban contemporary cut with a dash of country and tropical flavor, Chris Stapleton is a co-writer. Although low-key, it’s alluring. “Say Something” trumps it, once more featuring Stapleton as a co-writer, as well as a featured guest.
Considering the entire album, “Say Something” comes closer than most songs to the characterization Timberlake provided regarding Man of the Woods. Stapleton’s appearance confirms the country influence, but it’s also perceptible within the production, specifically rhythm guitars, vocal harmonization, and other intentional cues. Still, Timberlake doesn’t shy away from the pop, vocally and percussively. The repetition of the chorus perfectly exemplifies modern pop, which is greatly influenced by hip-hop and urban music. Timberlake and Stapleton deliver compelling performances, particularly when they join forces. Repetition bodes in Timberlake’s favor here, particularly the infectious, memorable chorus.
Following the Jessica Timberlake (Biel) interlude “Hers,” we get some Americana flavor on “Flannel.” Initially, Timberlake serves this record up without any pop trickery – it sounds purely country. Soon enough, the trickery – 808s – come in. Still, “Flannel” is closer to his vision. Interestingly, during last minute-and-a-half of “Flannel,” Jessica provides additional narration during an enigmatic, unexpected production switch-up.
“Montana” returns to soulful pop sans any Americana touches. Cool, calm, collected, chill, and, smooth – get the picture – “Montana” is pleasant, if a bit of a bore. Perhaps it’s where it sits on the track listing. “Breeze Off the Pond” falls into the boat as “Montana.” Pleasant, but not game changing or particularly rousing. “Livin’ Off the Land” incorporates an audio sample from the A&E Mountain Men® series. It sets the tone of the record, before guitars and the modern drum programming anchor things down. To Timberlake’s credit, you can perceive his vision on this particularly record.
“The Hard Stuff” is the third and final Chris Stapleton co-write of Man of the Woods. Arguably more than the few country-tinged songs, the country vibes come through more pronounced. Now the question is, is Justin Timberlake still a pop-soul singer dabbling in country music, regardless of his upbringing in Memphis, Tennessee? The answer is yes. “Young Man” concludes with Timberlake singing to his young son, Silas. While the song itself isn’t necessarily among the crème de la crème, it’s thoughtful and touching.
So, how does the first new Justin Timberlake in more than four years stack up? Man of the Woods has its fair share of moments. It’s enjoyable and generally inoffensive. That said, it’s a bit ‘all over the place,’ particularly in regards to its vision. Returning to the often-cited introductory quote from Timberlake, most of this album doesn’t feel like an Americana album. More often than not, this is more pop-soul from JT, and there’s nothing wrong with that – generally. Still, for a sixteen-track album, it’s difficult pinpointing surefire hits, particularly compared to his past work.
Gems: “Filthy,” “Midnight Summer Jam,” “Higher Higher,” “Man of the Woods,” “Supplies” & “Say Something,”