Review: “Man of the Woods” leaves much to be desired


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Justin Timberlake’s last release was “The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2” in 2013.

Parker Reed

Justin Timberlake was once a great pop star.

Maybe that’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the ultimately underwhelming “Man of the Woods,” Timberlake’s fifth full-length album, but I’m not sure if it is.

Starting with 2006’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” the ex-‘NSync member was looked to for only the highest-tier of pop music. And this continued with 2013’s “The 20/20 Experience,” which cemented Timberlake as a modern king of pop.

In fact, “The 20/20 Experience” was my favorite pop album of 2013. The song compositions (and lengths) were ambitious for such a mainstream release, and Timberlake’s suave image and falsetto were a perfect match.

It’s been nearly five years since “20/20,” and you can tell. When Timberlake released “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” in 2016 for the film “Trolls,” I passed it off as just a fun distraction before his true return to the musical spotlight.

Unfortunately, “Man of the Woods” isn’t Timberlake’s grand, continued domination of the pop sphere, but instead, a wandering, overly-long release with little in terms of substance.

Since the announcement of “Man of the Woods,” it’s been clear the album would go in a different direction than Timberlake’s past releases. Maybe it would feature a bit more natural sound, some more organic instrumentation?

The latter is somewhat true. Many songs feature clear, bluesy guitars as leading forces in the mix, a welcome inclusion. 

However, not much else is changed. This means we’re left with some traditional, contemporary pop beats, with some organic guitars on top of it. It doesn’t sound that shocking, but the tones don’t mix well. 

At it’s very worst, this combination leaves Timberlake sounding like a feature on a Florida Georgia Line track.

Sometimes this mix can work alright (“Wave”), but othertimes, it’s too jarring to take seriously (“Livin’ Off the Land”). 

This isn’t to say that none of the 16 tracks are salvageable. “Midnight Summer Jam” is an early-album highlight, probably because it’s hypnotizing groove is most reminiscent of the “20/20” era. “Say Something” also ends up being a decent cut in Timberlake’s new style. Chris Stapleton’s vocal contributions end up being surprisingly effective in a genre he isn’t usually found in.

But Timberlake also ditches the organic-meets-synthetic tone far too often for “Man of the Woods” to feel even somewhat cohesive.

Lead single “Filthy” starts the album in a completely misleading fashion. The awkward, wobbling bass isn’t appealing in any way, and there is no hook that salvages this strange, repetitive mess. Frankly, it’s one of album’s low-points.

As is the follow-up single “Supplies,” which just sounds as if Timberlake was contractually obligated to create something that could somewhat appeal to today’s trap-loving youth. It fails.

Ultimately, “Man of the Woods” just can’t tell what it wants to be.

Which is upsetting since past releases from the pop singer could hang their hats on their focused visions.

I’m actually fairly certain that Timberlake could pull off a decent folk-pop album if he ditched all the modern tendencies. “Man of the Woods” takes steps toward a new aesthetic that could have done Timberlake well, but more often than not shies away from this bold new direction to find solace in overly sanitized trappings.

Instead of standing front and center on the world’s largest stages, “Man of the Woods” is better off hiding out in the wilderness.

Recommended tracks: “Midnight Summer Jam,” “Montana” and “Say Something”