It seems that a lot has changed for Justin Timberlake since The 20/20 Experience. When last we met him, he was kitted out in a ‘Suit & Tie,’ but today he tells us that he’s more comfortable in a ‘Flannel.’ Unfortunately, based on Man of the Woods, it seems the suit was the better fit.
A large chunk of the album is spent pushing Timberlake’s new outdoorsy, “simple living” image. Sonically, this means plenty of midtempo country-tinged ballads. Lyrically, it feels vague and cheap. We get scoffs at “that fancy record company man,” on the nose statements like “Ain’t got no phone, don’t need it though,” and faux-profundities like “Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.” You wonder how many camping trips it took JT to come up with that one.
From the more conventional pop tracks, ‘Filthy’ is the obvious choice for a hit, but despite its bellowing guitars and lofty ambitions, it’s hard to see it setting a stadium alight. Elsewhere, when Timberlake attempts to turn the swagger on, we get tired lines like “I’ll be the generator, turn me on when you need electricity.”
At 16 tracks and 65 minutes long, this thing is a slog. At times the production is so limp that you would scarcely believe Timbaland and the Neptunes are its architects. The one-two punch of ‘Hers (Interlude)’ and ‘Flannel,’ – a full minute of Jessica Biel talking about wearing her husband’s shirt, a startlingly boring track about said shirt, and then, preposterously, another minute and a half of Biel speaking – will leave you reeling. Good moments on ‘Montana’ and ‘Breeze off the Pond’ are tucked away towards the album’s end, but you may be exhausted by the time you get there.
In a nutshell: This baffling, clumsy rebrand from Timberlake will have you wishing he’d bring sexy back.