One of my favorite pastimes growing up was listening to Justin Timberlake’s music. While in middle school I found a friend who shared a keen appreciation for music. His name is Brad. Brad and I attended a tiny K-12 Christian school in Ohio. As time passed, we discovered we lived in the same city despite most friends living upwards of 45 minutes apart. This opened opportunities to kick it on the weekends. Brad is a skilled drummer and music producer. Although my parents wrote and performed music, I preferred instead to listen. I never played an instrument or wanted to get up in front of people to sing. My love for music began in middle school sitting next to my close friend while hours deep into GarageBand. Brad was the maestro. Compared to him, I knew very little about making beats. However, I helped where I could.
My job was to give an outside perspective on his creations, adding suggestions along the way. I was the dreamer, he was the doer. We were a pretty good team. Our favorite artists at the time were Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake. We’d jam out to one of their songs for awhile, then Brad opened up GarageBand to put his own twist on them. To this day, the B-Luv remix to JT’s “My Love” beats out the original. I wish y’all could hear it. Needless to say, Justin Timberlake is an all-time favorite of mine. His early work with The Neptunes and Clipse is off-the-wall fun. The Timbaland-laced FutureSex / LoveSounds broke the mold of pop monotony in the mid 2000’s. Additionally, back in 2013, Justin revamped his sound with refreshing adult contemporary dance and love ballads. Timberlake has failed to disappoint throughout most of his career. Unfortunately, until now.
I discovered the purpose of this album title by watching his interview with Beats 1 Radio’s Zane Lowe. Timberlake’s son with actress Jessica Biel is named Silas after his great grandfather. The meaning of the name is “man of the woods”. It’s a sweet gesture to say the least. Nevertheless, this project was doomed from the start. Amid new-album speculations, two singles were released. After the closing seconds of “Filthy” finished, I quickly switched off my headphones. Although it wasn’t the worst song I’ve ever heard, it was nowhere near good. Due to this early disappointment, I wasn’t looking forward to the next single or the album as a whole. “Supplies” is the lamest, most poorly written song in Timberlake’s career. Not only are the lyrics cornering, the hook’s vocals are utterly obnoxious. I am hurt by Pharrell’s performance.
The Neptunes have production credits on the majority of this album. Rather than searching for complementary sounds, JT forces a country-folk trap blend. These songs either sound awkward or unoriginal. A handful of tracks feel like throwaways from Pharrell’s GIRL album. Country and trap do not mix. Despite a couple of not-terrible tracks sprinkled in, Man of the Woods has little to offer in terms of longevity. The ideas are here, though. Melding country, pop, and trap is ambitious in theory. However, in practice, this concoction falls short in a multitude of ways. The lyrics here are generic and repetitive more often than not. Timberlake is known for some of the stickiest hooks in 21st-century pop music. Conversely, on this album, there is not one hook that will be sung past next week. This is simply a forgettable bunch of underdeveloped songs.
Although the overlaying message of family and nature is endearing, the actual content does not match this sentiment. The Neptunes were an incorrect choice for a country-inspired album because their sound is synthetic. If you’re a man of the woods, why would you score that experience with inorganic soundscapes? That makes no sense to me. “Montana,” “Breeze Off the Pond,” and “The Hard Stuff” fit the mold. “Morning Light” with Alicia Keys is a nice song, but it is fairly run-of-the-mill lyrically. “Higher Higher” is a potential sleeper. “Montana” is the best track here, but “Higher Higher” has true value nonetheless. The album’s closer “Young Man” is touching. I love how it wraps the album up. I just wish the project as a whole coincided with Timberlake’s proposed earthy aesthetic. For the first time, JT appears to be past his prime.