Man of the Woods
Justin Timberlake doesn’t need music. After successfully transitioning from boy-band heartthrob to adult pop star, then to successful actor, Timberlake could have ambled off into a Hollywood sunset. Instead, we get Man of the Woods, a record whose title suggests a figure emerging after a long period of self-reflection. Timberlake seems keen to sink his teeth into something meaty, yet neither he, nor his prodigious collaborators, come up with anything new or weighty. Timbaland gets four production credits, none of which rival his past heights with or without Timberlake. Throwing back to the futurefunk of FutureSex/LoveSounds, “Filthy,” the record’s first single and opening cut, teases at its fixation on sex and love. But as more than one internet commentator has noted, its proclamation that “this ain’t the clean version” is belied by its decidedly PG lyrics.
The same can be said for much of the record, which confidentially captures that first kiss before making a hard cut to the morning after, leaving everything in between to the listener’s imagination. On the album’s back
woven through the actual beats, the instrumentations alone are enough to hold one’s attention. When the lyricists do pop up, they most certainly come correct. “Ballad of the Beast” features Shad, Len Bowen and DJ Dopey, all of whom bring thorough 16-bar verses. Lead single “Mutations” is where the real lyrical miracles happen, courtesy of De La Soul’s Posdnuos. The only real issue that faces Survival is also what makes it a refreshing listen. In the same short breath that solidifies it as a beautiful contrast to the trap overhaul of the past year, it also doesn’t further Grand Analog’s narrative. The lack of rhymes is invigorating to the ear, but sacrifices any tangible personnel development. If you’re looking for a half-hour of easily digestible rap music, Survival is a must-play, just don’t be disappointed when you don’t know Grand Analog any better then you did before. (grandanalog.com) ELECTRONIC half, we get glimpses into his life with wife Jessica Biel and their young son, to whom he pays tribute on the record’s sweet final track, “Young Man.” Clearly there’s a desire to reflect on his role as a husband and father, but his fame and his (perfectly natural) desire not to reveal too much of himself is the record’s biggest impediment.
Timberlake is, above all else, a performer, and in that regard he continues to excel — he hits every note, sells every line, but at no point feels like he’s pushing himself. But it’s the Neptunes, working with Timberlake for the first time since 2002’s Justified, who really disappoint. While the funky “Midnight Summer Jam” is a fun distraction, much of the rest of their contributions dabble in light, tropical flourishes. The title track, with its questionable assertion that “If I take it too far, that’s okay because you know I hear the making up’s fun” is perhaps the most egregious example of how far the collaboration has fallen. Immaculately produced and performed, it’s hard to imagine Man of the Woods not being a hit, its tracks a steady stream for playlist fodder. But sound and feel are no substitute for soul. (RCA)