When Justin Timberlake announced his new album Man of the Woods would be inspired by his roots and his family, fans and critics were immediately skeptical. What would a country album from the singer of “Sexy Back” sound like? The album’s announcement seemed to indicate a more acoustic, Southern sound, but it was followed up with the heavy, electronic lead single “Filthy.”
The song was shocking in that it was vastly different from what Timberlake had originally advertised the album to be. “Filthy,” like a lot of the pop singer’s past efforts, takes a while to get used to. It doesn’t live up to Timberlake’s past efforts like “Suit and Tie.”
In fact, the entire album has moments reminiscent of Timberlake’s past greatness, but it never comes close to the previous heights reached in the singer’s career. He attempts to blend folk and Americana with the R&B-infused dance pop that made him famous. He tries his hand at a deeper, more meaningful project, but is ultimately too ambitious.
The mixture of sounds comes close to working on tracks like “Sauce,” “Higher Higher,” “Wave” and “Say Something,” but completely misses the mark on others like “Morning Light,” “Flannel” and “Midnight Summer Jam.”
The album finds Timberlake desperately attempting to evolve and produce something fresh and new. His efforts are commendable, but the amalgamation of genres ultimately does not work to his benefit. The record often comes across as cheesy, with songs like the laughable “Flannel” and uninspired “Morning Light” featuring banal lyrics like “In the whole world of guys, I must be the luckiest alive.” The cliches continue with Timberlake’s wife Jessica Biel attempting to add artistic depth with spoken word sprinkled within tracks like “Hers (Interlude).” Finally, Timberlake follows in the footsteps of Beyoncé and Adele by closing the album with a dedication to his son Silas, whose name actually means “man of the forest.” It’s a well-composed track, but it feels unoriginal when compared to the similar tracks released by the aforementioned pop stars.
The best moments on the record lie in the strong vocal performance, and the intriguing but inconsistent sonics. The lyrics are never deep, but some of the songs benefit from a bold production. “Filthy” and “Supplies,” while completely out of place relative to the rest of the album, offer danceable beats, and standouts “Montana” and “Breeze Off the Pond” finally deliver the signature Timberlake sound that made the singer famous.
Man of the Woods is overall a drastic change from the discography of the former *NSYNC member. Timberlake took several risks and hit the mark with a few songs. He even offers up some meaningful things to say, preaching confidence and self-assuredness, but he tries to do too much. In trying to do it all, the pop star sacrifices what could have been intriguing and new for under-whelming, recycled sounds.