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Album Review

The man. The myth. The legend: Justin Timberlake.

OK, perhaps I'm exagerrating just a bit. But it's no exageration to to say that this pop icon's fifth solo album, Man of the Woods, is one of 2018's most highly anticipated releases. And Timberlake's 16-track effort (which is enjoying a post-Super Bowl halftime show sales bump, despite mixed reviews for that performance) definitely showcases some new¬—and surprising—sides of the renowned singer.

The album cover gives us our first hint that this is not going to be a "SexyBack" retread. Instead, it sports a '70s retro feel, picturing one half of J.T. in a flannel and jeans, the other half in a suit. The message? Perhaps it's that Timberlake is more than just a snazzy, suit-and-tie kind of guy. He's also an everyday kinda guy, the image implies, the kind who might just be bringing flannel back, too.

The songs themselves fuse funk, pop, rock, soul and even country elements. (Grizzled country crooner Chris Stapleton is perhaps the biggest surprise guest contributor here.) We even get a few tracks that touch on fatherhood, marriage and fidelity. That said, the man who brought us "SexyBack" isn't quite ready to let it go just yet.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

“Young Man” delivers some poignant life lessons for Justin’s young son, Silas, who is almost 3 (and whose little voice is featured here, too). Dad tells his little guy, "Beautiful boy, got it from your momma,” and he advises that one day, “You gon’ have to stand for something/... And even when you fall, don’t stay down.”

In “The Hard Stuff,” Justin reassures a woman (he's married to actress Jessica Biel) that while “anybody can be in love on a sunny day,” he's ready to face “the hard stuff/The kind that makes you real.” Elsewhere in that song, Timberlake references the Almighty's awareness of his character flaws when he sings, "My God knows I'm not the man that I want to be." And on “Flannel,” he promises to be “someone to lean on” while he and his wife work through past emotional damage.

“Morning Light” finds J.T. gushing about love: “And I say to myself, ‘In the whole wide world of guys/I must be the luckiest alive.’” In “Breeze off the Pond,” he claims, “I’d be foolish beyond words to lose you” as he says that his relationship is “solid as oak, so you know it’ll never blow away.” Similar themes of intimacy and cherished love can be heard in “Montana” and “Man of the Woods" as well.

"Supplies” promises a woman, “I’ll be the light when you can’t see/I’ll be the wood when you need heat.” And in “Hers,” Jessica Biel shares that her husband's shirt is like “armor, like a barrier from the world/It makes me feel like I’m his.”

“Livin’ off the Land” tells the story of a blue-collar worker who does all he can to provide for his family: “And I break my back/And I work all night/... I’m just one man doing the best that I can.” Meanwhile, “Midnight Summer Jam” is an ode to Timberlake's Southern roots: “It’s in the air, hospitality/Anything you want, what’s mine is yours/... Y’all can’t do better than this.”

In “Higher, Higher” Timberlake shares that even though “stress is cruel, fame’s a lie” he and his wife continue to grow stronger by “climbing, more to gain/Gettin’ higher.” And in “Wave” he wants to go with her “to an island/Like we did last year, catch a vibe,” as together they’re “getting better/Aging like your favorite wine.”

Objectionable Content

While we understand that Timberlake is seemingly a very happily married man (which is a good thing) he often shares intimate (and even explicit) sexual details from his marriage.

In “Sauce,” a woman “got all of it,” and she's equated to “god herself” causing Timberlake to exclaim, “It’s always loose screws when you get close to me." From there, lyrics offer thinly veiled visual references to her anatomy, details too suggestive to include here. And in “Filthy,” J.T. says he has his “swagger back” as he tells a woman “put your filthy hands all over me” and asks, “what you gonna do with all that meat?” (the latter line an apparent reference to her body). He also warns, "No, this ain’t the clean version.”

In “Man of the Woods," Timberlake embarrasses a woman with his machismo, but apologizes by saying “it’s my pride” and says suggestively, "I hear the making up is fun.” In "Montana," we hear the f-word used sarcastically, and Timberlake also tells us, "we’ve been kissin’ for hours." Mildly sensual details are expressed in “Hers” as a woman wears a man’s shirt that “feels like, like his skin is over mine.”

Tough times tempt a woman to give up on a relationship in "Livin’ off the Land.” And in “Breeze off the Pond," we hear a reference to a couple that is "stoned." “Flannel” mentions two people who drown difficult childhood memories with alcohol, saying that negative feelings are “bound to go down after a couple empty cans.”

“Supplies” reminisces about a time Timberlake says he “flew in on a 3 a.m. just to show up and hear your sounds." Elsewhere on that track, we hear an s-word. Two more profanities (another s-word, "d--n") turn up on "Midnight Summer Jam," too.

Summary Advisory

When you think of the standard pop album, perhaps you think of something from Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, or Maroon 5. Perhaps Justin Timberlake would have once earned an automatic spot on that list, too. But this time around he’s taken some stylistic liberties with the genre.

The album cover, for instance, visually suggests that Man of the Woods might be a country effort—a suggestion reinforced by the presence on of Chris Stapleton on a couple of tracks. It's not, really. But Man of the Woods isn't, ultimately, a pop album, either. It's a little bit of … everything, as if Timberlake decided he wanted to make a record unlike anything he's done before. If that was his goal, he's succeeded.

That eclectic approach definitely hasn't connected with many mainstream reviewers, however. Esquire's Matt Miller wrote:

"Well, I’m here to tell you a little bit of good news: Man of the Woods is not a country album. It’s more like deep-fried Justin Timberlake. It's like stumbling across some awkward campfire party in a clearing in the middle of a forest. It's like eating a handful of poison berries from a bush and finding yourself scared, confused, nauseous, and lost among the foliage. It has harmonica solos, fiddles, pan flutes, and so many hand drums. It has a weird aversion to choruses and an oddly playful production. ... It’s his infamous denim suit resurrected as music."

My concerns are different than those. Despite some terrific lyrics about marriage, faithfulness and fatherhood, Timberlake still can't resist indulging his inner bad boy on many tracks. And those "smooth" moves can’t cover up questionable language or sexually explicit lyrics.

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

No. 1 iTunes album.

Record Label

RCA Records

Platform

Publisher

Released

February 2, 2018

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Kristin Smith

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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