Strong singing from Justin Timberlake and lively production outweigh ‘Man of the Woods’’ shortcomings.
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Justin Timberlake has so dominated American culture throughout the 21st century that his relatively sparse musical output can be easily overlooked. He’s only released one more LP in the past sixteen years than he did in four years with *NSYNC and has had seven and five-year album droughts during that period as well.
Stream: ‘Man of the Woods’ – Justin Timberlake
Thankfully for fans, the latter dry stretch concluded with the release of Man of the Woods back in February of 2018. By and large, the positive qualities that have helped Timberlake amass one of the most impressive stashes of hits of any artist this generation are kept intact. His new album represents a solid hour of engaging, well-produced, dance-ready music.
“Filthy” gets the party started in a similar fashion as the title track to FutureSex/LoveSounds did a dozen years ago: with a synth-heavy call to the nightclub that assures us all that “this ain’t the clean version” and that the upcoming evening is bound to be a thrill ride. Given that the world was just introduced to this song on the grandest stage imaginable— as the opener to Timberlake’s Super Bowl halftime set— the fresh memory of that exciting entry into pop-culture consciousness grants the song itself additional appeal.
Watch: “Man of the Woods” – Justin Timberlake
From there on, the fun runs aplenty. Powerful vocals and top-shelf beats have always been a strong suit of Timberlake’s albums, and that is just as true on Man on the Woods. Even more so, in some regards now that the Neptunes have finally resolved their disputes with Timberlake’s label and returned to the studio with him for the first time since 2002. The famed duo has assisted with the bulk of the tracks here, some of which (“Supplies” and “Montana” among them) could go down as some of the finest latter-half career efforts. The singing is also strong on every track— “Say Something,” a collaboration with country rocker Chris Stapleton, may be the high point.
Sonically, the new record shares some common ground from where Timberlake left off on his last full-length release, the two-part 20/20 Experience project from 2013. Although its production features more of an electronica influence, Man of the Woods still borrows from the sounds of the 20/20 era, as does some of the lyricism. “After midnight, please don’t stop the music,” Timberlake sings in his signature high-pitch on “Midnight Summer Jam,” recalling 2013’s “Don’t Hold the Wall.”
However, Timberlake’s latest does succeed in tempering some of the flaws of its predecessor, most significantly in running time. The 20/20 Experience was burdened by a few too many seven-minute tracks that would have been better off at five minutes or less. By contrast, none of the songs on Man of the Woods run longer than five minutes, and these reduced lengths make for a more consumable listen. “I love your pink, you like my purple” notwithstanding. The new album also cuts down some of the cheesy shout-out one-liners that populated The 20/20 Experience a bit too bountifully.
The album’s shortcomings can be debated. Timberlake is still far from the finest lyricist out there, and Man of the Woods doesn’t really do enough to explore new subject matter beyond what fans have long been accustomed to hearing from him. Perhaps it was a missed opportunity to include no hip-hop duets when those represent some of the standout tracks from across his discography. The record could also have been further streamlined and trimmed of its fat, as the pacing does get rather muddled at times.
But in the end, Timberlake is an artist of great charm and a once-in-a-generation vocal talent. He’ll likely never make a better album than 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, but now that he’s become an elder statesman of pop music, Man of the Woods is a perfectly respectable effort for this phase of his career.
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Man of the Woods
an album by Justin Timberlake