It has always been a universal truth that there is nothing that Justin Timberlake can’t do. He can serenade in falsettos, swivel his feet across a stage, and leave an audience gripping their stomachs in stitches. He can even recover from one of the biggest Super Bowl halftime show debacles of all time. But his latest solo album, Man of the Woods proves that not everything Timberlake touches turns to gold.
To say that the album is bad would be an even greater understatement than saying that Timberlake’s wife Jessica Biel is “pretty.” Released on February 2, Man of the Woods is inspired by the Tennessee roots that no one really knew that Timberlake had. The album’s hints of Americana and country are forced together with Timberlake’s signature R&B style, creating a discordant sound that’s searching for an identity.
The album’s opener, “Filthy,” is a techno heavy beat layered with Timberlake’s famous croons and falsettos. With assistance from Timbaland, it’s a song that’s classically Timberlake, with echoes of his hits like “Give It to Me.” Although “Filthy” is one of the better tracks off of Man of the Woods, it has absolutely no place in the narrative of the rest of the album, especially when he brings his family into the mix.
Man of the Woods is not only inspired by Timberlake’s hometown root, but by his growing family. Jessica Biel lends her voice to a handful of the album’s tracks, including “Hers,” an awkward spoken interlude that could easily get mistaken for an advertisement between songs. “Young Man” is a tribute to Timberlake’s son Silas, and even features some of the toddler’s garbled cooing.
Perhaps the worst song off of the album is “Flannel,” a song that is quite literally about a plaid shirt. In addition to it’s cringe inducing lyrics, the tune of “Flannel” is reminiscent of a cheesy Christmas song. While it’s important that every artist have a roots album, songs like “Breeze Off the Pond,” “Livin’ Off the Land,” and “Montana” reduce country life to nothing but a stereotype, demonstrating Timberlake’s disconnect from the place he’s trying to sing about.
The problem with Man of the Woods isn’t just with it’s disjointed sound, but with what the album is actually about—nothing. Timberlake has always been characterized by his ability to coast, with not only his easy to love music, but with the privileged trajectory of his career. And in 2018, that’s just not good enough. We’re living in a time of struggle and change, and Man of the Woods does nothing to reflect that. In fact, the “nothingness” that Timberlake provides with Man of the Woods embodies the white male privilege that is running rampant throughout the entertainment industry. With his influence and rapport, Timberlake possesses the ability to make real change, and now more than ever, he needs to use it.