The fifth Justin Timberlake album, “Man of the Woods” was released in early February. Because his previous album, “The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2” was released five years ago, my expectations for the new album were high, adding insult to injury when I realized how disappointing this release is.
The first and most popular song of the album, according to Spotify, is “Filthy,” a strange combination of different instrumentals that have two effects on the song overall. For one, the background sounds hectic, as though it was not produced by a professional artist. For another, Timberlake’s vocals are easily overpowered by the intensity of the instruments. The track starts off strong, but the transition abruptly brings us into the starkly different chorus. The dark, electronic beat is coupled with sections of lighter vocals, and are all woven together with sudden transitions. The worst part of this song is the ending, where the vocals crackle off, and are replaced by slightly disturbing howls and a woman’s dialogue.
Next up, “Supplies,” is a sad attempt to feed into pop culture’s enthusiasm for rap music. Although this track is obviously not a rap song, the rhythm of the lyrics and incessant use of the word “girl” give away Timberlake’s purpose for creating this track. The most frustrating part of this song is the clear disconnect between the vocals and the rap-influenced instrumental. His voice is layered heavily, and he sounds too electronic for the bass-boosted background. He then transitions, very poorly, into a ballad that is accompanied by what sounds like a 14th century lute. It felt like one big, unorganized mess of noises. Unlike the previous song, “Supplies” couldn’t be helped by any change, it only got worse as it went along.
Next we come to the title track “Man of the Woods,” which just like “Filthy” is a cluster of different noises that he has tried to pass off as an instrumental. The only thing that was different about this song is that he tries to add a beach vibe into this one, but it ends up sounding like something that is reminiscent of the background music of a “Spongebob” episode that plays when Spongebob goes jellyfishing with his friends. It is hard for me to tell exactly what the lyrics mean, but we know for certain that he is singing about his relationship with a girl, presumably his wife. “And nobody ever will understand what we do/There’s only one me and you.” This track exhibits the same problems: too layered, poor instrumentals and awkward transitions. Timberlake lowers his voice greatly and once again, creates a disconnect between his voice and the background.
The only song I can say I genuinely enjoyed on this album is “Morning Light,” a track that was soft and gentle compared to everything else on this album. For once his vocals matched the beat perfectly and the layering fit. Alicia Keys’ voice also helped this sweet melody. The background featured the hums of a gospel chorus and a gentle guitar, that complemented Timberlake’s higher notes. This track surprised me as I was getting used to the underproduced vibe from the rest of the songs, and was met with a melody I honestly had no issues with. It does not make up for the rest of this album, but I did replay it a few times, to its credit.
Clearly, this album was not the best Timberlake has ever produced. The overall lack of stability within the songs, disjointed feeling between the vocals and instrumentals as well as the feeling that he was trying too hard to appeal to modern music culture made this album unpleasant to sit through. I hope Timberlake redeems himself in the future, because this album just felt like a waste of time, like JT got lost in the woods and couldn’t find his way out.