Rating 4/5 Stars
This album is weird. Released on Feb. 2, Justin Timberlake’s 5th studio album, “Man of the Woods,” what is described as a pop album, is actually a music fever dream. Listening to this album is like taking a trip through time if the time machine malfunctioned and was stuck between the 1970s and 2016.
The album has production credits from Pharrell and Timbaland, over 10 writers and features Alicia Keys and Chris Stapleton. It includes themes of romance, hometown pride and the hardships of life. JT tries to remind us that he is from the South, for reasons that only he understands.
“Midnight Summer Jam” reminds listeners a lot of “He’s The Greatest Dancer” by Sister Sledge, but with a modern twist. There is a funky bass line that makes the song danceable and makes it obvious that it is co-written by Pharrell. The most contemporary part of the song is in the refrain: “Y’all can’t do better than this, act like the South ain’t the s***.” Then there is a harmonica solo that appears in the last quarter of the track that just cements how eclectic the whole thing is.
“Supplies” seems as if he wants to make sure listeners do not forget his history of profiting from urban culture. The song is a textbook rap record. He even has the requisite “BRR” every eight bars and incomprehensible adlibs. There is nothing interesting about the song except for the painfully obvious pandering. His voice is discordant with this musical trend and makes the whole song seem insincere. The melody line is nice but a little too involved for a trap record, so by all accounts, this misses the mark.
A favorite song is “Morning Light,” arguably the most sincere track on the album. It has a slow-dance, reggae-romance feel with a feature from Keys that makes it viable for a “Top 10 Wedding Songs” list. Gunfire hi-hats snap over violins, and an electric guitar backs JT up as he croons about how he just wants to lie with his love.
There is no place in pop for this album. All of the songs are too long for radio with the exception of “The Hard Stuff,” and it does not really call out as the kind of song that would catch on. There are few traces of the Justin Timberlake listeners have come to know, with “Higher Higher” and “Breeze Off the Pond” representing the last remnants of his old R&B persona.
“Man of the Woods” is very pandering. Bringing in big-ticket producers and songwriters makes it too intentional to just be an organized identity crisis, but the discordant combination of genres and musical styles makes it seem as though they are just trying to check off boxes. “Living Off the Land” is the most comical example of this, as Justin Timberlake, who has been raking in millions since his teenage years, tries to mournfully sing the struggles of living hand to mouth. There is a song tacked on at the end for his son, but it is filled with proverbial advice that any adult would give a 2-year-old and a weird line where JT tells his toddler that he wants to impregnate his mother.
The songs are varied enough to make listening to the album interesting, and the production is pretty good. If listeners like the music of the 1940s, the music of the 1980s, the music of 2017, or Justin Timberlake, then there is something in this album for them.
Photo provided by justintimberlakeVEVO via YouTube.com