Friday, February 16, 2018

Justin Timberlake - Man Of The Woods Review

It's safe to assume the direction of Pop stars is guided not entirely by the prominent voice hedging the songs, but a collective of faceless suits going incognito to best maximize their profits. Sometimes their execution is more shrewd than others. With Justin Timberlake's latest blunder Man Of The Woods, that's most certainly not the case. If timing wasn't indicative enough, releasing the 20/20 Experience follow-up a mere two days before his lukewarm performance soloing the Super Bowl's halftime show, then the awkward transition into Country boy wannabe, coinciding with the genre's recent resurgence, will surely settle any doubts. Man Of The Woods screams of a carefully calculated marketing ploy, one that relies on Timberlake's Tennessee roots, even if he's never once indicated his aspirations lie in the countryside.

One doesn't even have to glance over Timberlake's entire career, one culminating in the sleek, Timbaland-crafted FutureSex/LoveSound, to find where his true heart lies. For those anonymous executives, and Timberlake himself, reveal it on Man Of The Woods' first track and lead single; 'Filthy.' It's sloppy, raunchy, and funky, but above all else, it's the catchy Timerblake-Timbaland pairing many have grown accustomed to, and not the land-grazing, farm-plowing, moral-abiding transformation we saw in Man Of The Woods' promotional material. Buy listeners in with expectation (something that continues for much of the album's first half), then convert them to your conceited change of heart by way of traditions, customs, and the need to run a family. When JT sings "put your filthy hands all over me" ('Filthy'), "cause you keep looking at me with those eyes like you know something I don't" ('Sauce'), "hands talking, fingers walking, down your legs hey where's the faucet" ('Man Of The Woods'), any sincerity performed by the latter album's Country-leaning feels entirely unnatural. Especially when topics include being a rugged, blue collar worker ('Livin' Off The Land'), having a heart behind the layman's attire ('Flannel'), and imposing familial standards ('Young Man'), the classic Pop declarations that dictate Man Of The Woods' first half give an exceptionally undeniable look at Timberlake's false front.

Perhaps most inquisitive about the album is how the middling portion is its most extreme, finding a preposterous anomaly spark up in 'Supplies,' only to experience, two songs later, the Chris Stapleton-assisted acoustic ballad of 'Say Something.' It's a disorienting stretch, especially when one considers the link, 'Morning Light,' is one of the album's best moments, feeling partly inspired by the joyous musings of The Social Experiment (Timberlake as Chance The Rapper, Alicia Keys as Jamila Woods). Unfortunately, 'Supplies' and 'Say Something' are awful. The former's especially bad, as it finds Timberlake going the Trap route, complete with a nauseating overuse of the "brrr" ad-lib. It's 2018's worst song thus far, and it's not even close. Pharrell should be ashamed for knowing damn well, if the weight of No One Ever Really Dies is anything to go by, how appalling 'Supplies' is. To cap off this stretch is the one-minute interlude 'Hers,' a song that feels triple the length thanks to how uncomfortable, and downright creepy, Jessica Biel's devotion to her lover is. The mawkishness is borderline unbearable.

For what it's worth, after everything that Man Of The Woods can be mocked for, there's still a handful of tracks worth snatching up. Beyond the aforementioned 'Morning Light,' there's also 'Midnight Summer Jam,' which is the best, and only, example of Timberlake's consolidation of Pop and Country. Here he understands that dance unites the opposites, making a glorified hoedown fresh by inserting various structural shifts (thanks to The Neptunes). 'Sauce' and 'Higher Higher,' while each having their own weaknesses, feel the most similar to Timberlake's traditional Pop peak in the early 2000's. And, believe it or not, 'Filthy' has grown on me thanks to the transformative hook that starts benign and balloons to something defiant. Other than that, nothing Timberlake tries to sell you on his homegrown return works, especially when his success hinges so delicately on the suit-wearing, city-slicker that teams up with futuristic Pop and R&B producers. JT, for your next project, drop the facade that graces the bottom half of Man Of The Woods' cover, flannel, tattered jeans, and boots included, and return to the actual roots you so clearly value more.

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