By Micah Walker
As Justin Timberlake has been promoting his latest album “Man of the Woods” for the past month, I thought I had an idea of what sound he was aiming for this time around. The album cover features the singer standing in a snowy forest, while the trailer for “Man of the Woods” shows him in various country landscapes such as a corn field, a horse ranch, and the mountains.
Timberlake’s marketing campaign suggested he was venturing into country music, which wouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The singer’s hometown is Memphis, Tennessee, and he hinted at a possible move to country when he performed with Chris Stapleton at the 2015 CMA Awards.
However, Timberlake’s fifth album is not a country record at all. Rather, it’s a funk/soul album with a bit of a twang.
The opener and first single “Filthy” sees the pop superstar looking to his second album “FutureSexLoveSounds” for inspiration with its funk and spacey, electronic beats. The track offers little lyrically, with Timberlake talking about partying “till six in the morning” and having sexual desires for a love interest, presumably his actress wife, Jessica Biel. With cringeworthy lyrics such as “What you gonna do with all that meat? Cooking up a mean serving,” the singer’s attempt at making a “Sexyback” part two have failed.
The first half of the album is filled with several misfires, like the second single, “Supplies.” The trap song sees Timberlake trying to keep up with the sounds of today, while telling his lover they will be well prepared if the world ends like in The Walking Dead.
“I’ll be the wood when you need heat,” he sings. “I’ll be the generator, turn me on when you need electricity.”
The title track is the singer’s declaration of love to his wife, and he’s so filled with joy that he has to shout it from the open fields of the woods. The twangy guitar mixed with the hip-hop beats do not meld well together, making for a disjointed sound.
The two collaborations are also underwhelming. Stapleton teams up with Timberlake again as the country singer has three co-writes on the album including the one he’s featured in–“Say Something.” The country-pop song seems like it was made for country radio, but the duet is forgettable as the two singers express the pressures of voicing their opinions as celebrities.
Alicia Keys appears on the 70’s soul-inspired “Morning Light.” The saccharine ballad has her and Timberlake sharing their love for each other, and wanting to stay in bed holding each other until they see the morning sun.
Standouts on the earlier tracks include the funky “Midnight Summer Jam” and “Sauce.” The former, produced by the Pharrell Williams production team The Neptunes, is an upbeat track about a late night dance party while “Sauce” has Timberlake talking about how he sees his wife as the perfect woman. The rock, funk, and country hybrid works in the singer’s favor this time with the help of producer Timbaland.
The second half of the album is great, forming into a cohesive collection much better than the earlier songs. The ballad “Flannel” has Timberlake sounding his most heartfelt, reassuring his lover that even though she has been hurt before, he will continue to stick with her as he has been hurt as well. The singer’s vocals are in top form as well. The harmony in the chorus, as well as a brief acapella section in the bridge, proves that Timberlake continues to have one of the best voices in the music industry.
“Montana” is a another love song, only in the form of a 80’s funk jam, while the excellent “Breeze Off the Pond” is flowy, 70’s-inspired funk that sounds like something that should be played at top volume on a sunny, summer afternoon. The singer talks about the strength of his relationship with his wife, singing they’re as “solid as oak.” He compares the naysayers to a “breeze on the pond” and advises his spouse to let the wind “blow through you, don’t let it move you.”
The closing song, “Young Man,” is dedicated to Timberlake’s two-year old son Silas. The singer gives his son advice on how to prepare for the difficulties of life, such as disappointments and heartbreak. However, Timberlake tells him to never give up on his dreams and that he’ll always be around to help him.
While Timberlake teased he was going to switch up his sound while promoting the album, “Man of the Woods” sounds a lot like the old JT. It also doesn’t help matters when he enlisted his longtime collaborators, The Neptunes and Timbaland, to produce all of the material. With both of them masters of urban music, the singer’s attempts to mix country and R&B were bound to fall flat. For his next album, Timberlake should take the plunge and make a straight country album. Who knows? The fans may be pleasantly surprised.