Clever - but not smart.
Before we even begin, let's just say: It isn't like Justin Timberlake has never made good music before - he laid bare his relationship with Britney Spears in "Cry Me A River" back in 2003, and just three years later he had a string of six back-to-back-hits off of his sophomore effort FutureSex/LoveSounds - beginning with 2006's contemporaneous "SexyBack" - which catapulted him to heights of pop stardom (despite wanting to make R&B music). If the Billboard Charts were Mt. Olympus, then Justin Timberlake was Zeus.
Justin wouldn't release another record for 7 years - although he did write plenty of hit songs for other artists - but when he did come back with 2013's 2-hour-long The 20/20 Experience, he came back with 3 hit singles - the most notable being "Mirrors."
We wouldn't see him again until 2016's "Can't Stop The Feeling!," which was the first time he had worked with songwriting legend Max Martin since he was a 15-year-old member of *NSYNC. Max Martin famously wrote many of the groups hits, as well as hit singles for Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. More recently, Martin has written hit singles for P!nk, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and more.
Despite numerous reports that the legendary music producer was working on Man of the Woods, none of his contributions were included in the final release. The record we were delivered was produced by Pharrell, Timbaland, and Danja.
But what the hell happened here? All the promo leading up to the Man of the Woods release promised us a mature Timberlake - but it ends there. It isn't what we were given - all the imagery of a flannel-wearing camp-fire-starting grown-ass man was just that - imagery. It didn't translate into the contents of the album, which was not any more mature than a 16-year-old boy's playlist of drunken party anthems.
This record is, first and foremost, a surface-level sex soundtrack - and it doesn't clear the already-very-low bar quite as masterfully as his past efforts have. FutureSex/LoveSounds is the Ferrari of sex records, while Man Of The Woods is a 2007 maroon-colored Nissan Sentra.
Justin has managed to create an album that is, unquestionably and categorically, funk - but without any of the soul or any of the fun that makes funk so compelling in the first place, and without any of the charisma that made his past records winners. Perhaps Pharrell is spreading his creative energy too thin, or perhaps Timbaland should have never been involved in a funk record.
I hate to mince words, so I'll just go out and say it: "Filthy," the album's opening track, sucks. Half of the songs on this album suck.
However, there are highlights, but they aren't good because of Justin, they are good in spite of him. The title track "Man of the Woods" is well-crafted and catchy, as long as you ignore the lyrics. Half the instrumentation in this sounds totally out of tune, but somehow it works - giving the track a very idiosyncratic and dreamy atmosphere. The same can be said for "Livin' Off The Land."
"Supplies" has a nice melody, is nicely produced, and the lyrics are somewhat clever - but not smart. The logline for this song could be "If you're having a bad day, well, I've got a penis." This is as good as this album gets.
The album can't find its way - It's messy, one-note, and boring. There are a few good melodies and few good beats sprinkled in here and there, but they aren't consistent or good enough to go out of your way for. At worst, the album is infantile. At best, the album is juvenile. There isn't really an audience for this record - and for good reason - and I personally wouldn't recommend it to, well, anybody.