Album Review: "Man of the Woods", Justin Timberlake
Alright, this isn’t a good album, but I still feel it’s not half as bad as everyone says it is. Other than a few songs that stand out as terrible, at worst it’s sonically awkward or too boring to justify being released. The good news is that the poor qualities to a lot of these cuts aren’t bad enough to make you wanna die when listening to them. Don’t get me wrong, something is pretty off about the tone of the album. It’s JT trying to go folk/country, but the influence is so watered down that it’s barely there. Don’t get me started on the weird trap elements mixed into some of these songs, dear god. These are still basically pop/r&b tunes, and I wish he’d have just rolled with that and come out with a decent synthpop album. But he had to try to pull off this weird nature-themed aesthetic that’s trying to be something it’s not.
Let’s get the record’s worst moments out of the way; Filthy and Supplies are the closest this album comes to being unbearable, which is ironic considering both were released as singles. The production’s pretty much ass, Filthy with this awkward dubstep-influenced synth lead that doesn’t fit into the track at all and Supplies with these trash, cluttered adlibs hanging around in the background. Both have painfully weak hooks and some of the worst lyrics of the whole album. And unfortunately the deep cuts suck too. The terribly cheesy, islandlike vibe of Wave is fairly unbearable on its own; why 808s were added to this track is beyond me. It’s also hard not to roll your eyes at Flannel, a soulful folk-inspired guitar cut whose vocal delivery screams fake deep. The vast majority of the rest of the album is just going to put you to sleep. In fact, songs like Morning Light, Something I Can’t Have, and Breeze Off the Pond border on intolerable because there’s just nothing fucking happening. They drag on far longer than they should based on the amount of ideas they actually have; I’m pretty certain they’re only there to take up space.
But while a lot of the cuts aren’t impressive, most are still listenable. I actually enjoyed the mix of energetic and peppy strings/guitars/horns on Midnight Summer Jam; it’s also one of the few tracks on the album with the right amount of bass. Montana’s mix of bliss and groove with its airy synths and guitars are nice enough; Young Man’s touches of funk and soul are a nice addition to the album, with pretty sweet lyrics meant for JT’s son about life and growing up. Despite Higher Higher being so poorly written, it’s sonically one of the better moments with the piano intro and lightweight funky guitars. I guess the problem with a lot of these tracks is that they have virtually nothing to do with what’s supposed to be this “nature-inspired” country-folky album despite not being terrible to throw on by themselves. It’s pretty hard to get past the fact the album uses far too much bass to be the stripped-back effort that JT promoted it as.
On the whole, I think it’d be ridiculous to expect an artist like JT to suddenly drop some crazy conceptual project. He’s never been that guy, and that’s totally fine. I guess I start to have an issue when songs are so vague/poorly written I can hardly visualize what they’re about. I have no idea if Higher Higher is supposed to be like, an uplifting track about how fame and success aren’t everything or a love song; it’s kind of just a bunch of cliches listed off in a row. Sauce is another song without a clear concept, and just sounds vaguely uncomfortable. It’s pretty clear Filthy is an attempted sex jam, but the songwriting is just so terrible that it doesn’t even come close to pulling it off. And it’s pretty impossible not to cringe at Hers (Interlude), this awkward spoken word passage where JT’s wife is talking about how wearing his shirt makes her feel like a real woman while these overdramatic pianos play in the background.
Man of the Woods’ most obvious, easily fixable problem is the fact it’s having a bit of an identity crisis. It seems like it can’t figure out which sound to commit to, resulting in this awkward mix between folk/country, soul, funk, trap, and pop/r&b. Which brings me back to wishing he’d pushed the pop/r&b/synth-funk side of things to their fullest; at least it wouldn’t reek of trying so hard to be something it’s not. Sure, the album is still bloated and laced with cringy moments, but it’s not a total trainwreck. It definitely could’ve been so much worse. Or maybe I’m just feeling generous right now.