Man Of The Woods

Justin Timberlake

RCA, 2018

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Oh, how the times have album release used to mean that one day, copies of a record would magically show up in stores and you could but it. These days, there’s an album to listen to, sure, but there are TV appearances, music videos, countless articles debating the cultural significance of what’s about to be released, streaming service exclusives, pop-up clothing stores…anything that helps promote awareness of “The Brand” is crucial.

This review is giving off an old man yelling at the cloud type vibe, and that’s not what I’m trying to accomplish. I am merely making the point that when albums come out, there is so much more wrapped into it than what it was even five years ago. It’s harder to separate the music from the accompanying pomp and circumstance. Hell, this particular record, Man Of The Woods, had a Super Bowl halftime show performance to bolster its performance sales-wise.

Justin Timberlake releases music infrequently enough that each album is a significant statement for him. The last time the record buying public had an opportunity to buy a full-length Timberlake album was five years ago in 2013; prior to that it had been a seven year gap. That’s a lot of pressure for anybody to be under, let alone one with all the extra accoutrement that Man Of The Woods was saddled with. I’m skeptical there was a record that Timberlake could have released that met these expectations, and the accompanying reaction has been an overwhelming sense of “meh” (Yes, that is the technical term).

Let’s get one thing straight though before continuing on: Man Of The Woods is not a great album. It has some moments of very good, but it generally settles into a vibe of decent-to-good. Timberlake wears his influences very plainly on his sleeves and tries a wide variety of different styles that at the very least make this release wholly unique from his previous efforts.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Admittedly, you hear the title of the album and would assume that Timberlake would have gone directly down a Bon Iver rabbit hole. The singles released for Man Of The Woods quickly disabused one of that notion: “Filthy” and “Supplies” definitely recreated that dance/R&B sound Timberlake has perfected over the years. In fact, the first half of the album, up to “Morning Light,” definitely sounds like previous Timberlake, albeit to varying degrees of success.The jangly “Sauce” and Pharrell Williams involved, soul-inspired “Higher And Higher” are the non-single standouts for me on Sides 1/2 from a songwriting perspective, but honestly the rest of the tracks....I could take them or leave them. “Morning Light” in particular was a disappointment considering the pedigree of those involved; Chris Stapleton and Alicia Keys should be a no-brainer right? Instead, what we get is simply...well, it’s boring. Keys isn’t asked to do too much really, which is a waste of her incredible talents.

It is Sides 3/4 where I actually really got invested in the record and found some genuine surprises. It’s not to say that it’s a totally stripped-down, folksy version of Timberlake, but he takes a detour down a more traditional pop/country road and I love it. “Flannel” is a gorgeous acoustic piece, and sure, Timberlake completely rips off Prince’s “Purple Rain” for the verses, but it’s a nice homage nonetheless to the dearly departed Purple One. The authenticity of the lyrics to “Livin’ Off The Land” is a little suspect, but it features a gorgeous vocal performance from Timberlake, and a nice hook to boot.

"Say Something” was co-written with current country music star Chris Stapleton, and it’s just a knockout piece melding Timberlake’s and Stapleton’s strengths perfectly. The juxtaposition of Timberlake’s falsetto and Stapleton’s grit works very well, and it doesn’t hurt that I find the song’s credo of (and this is my personal take, considering the current social and political climate) shutting up sometimes is okay. We could use a little of that, right?It may be low-hanging fruit to point this out, but the inclusion of a handful of spoken word monologues from Timberlake’s wife Jessica Biel was, shall we say, a poor choice? And I fully understand that his marriage and child are huge components to his life and impact his songwriting choices, but if I could give the man some advice going forward, I would say just make to let Jessica be an active listener and not a participant.

It’s harder and harder to convince someone to buy a record these days, which is why one could make the argument that the media blitz accompanying the statement records of the modern day is completely necessary. With the advent of streaming services, literally the entire library of human recordings is available for ten bucks a month. How does one attempt to standout amongst everything else? We saw how Justin Timberlake attempted to answer that question with Man Of The Woods. Whether or not it’s worthy of that level of attention is something that probably doesn’t even matter to him. Timberlake delivered a record that doesn’t capture the magic of Futuresex/Lovesounds, but it does lay out a roadmap that shows where he might be headed in the future. I’ll still be there for the ride.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2018 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA, and is used for informational purposes only.