In 1804, Lewis and Clark set forth on an incredible journey to explore the uncharted wilderness of the American Frontier. It is in the spirit of these brave explorers that I set forth on an analogous journey: a blind foray into Man of the Woods,
the latest LP from pop star Justin Timberlake. Like Lewis and Clark, I will surely encounter unknowable dangers for which I am completely unprepared, aural grizzly bears which wait for me in the depths of the album’s 1-hour-5-minute run time. However, I am undeterred. Settling into my trusty dugout canoe, I set forth from safe and shiny civilization towards The Woods, heedless of the perils that may befall me.
I have not been traveling for more than fifteen minutes before I encounter a feral Justin Timberlake feasting on the guts of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Poor and nude, the transcendentalist shrieks as Timberlake (himself dressed as Bruce Springsteen) viciously tears through him, using his the last of his strength to make a final argument for the truth, goodness, and beauty of nature in the face of Timberlake’s animalistic assault. “Like breeze off the pond / let it flow through you / don’t let it move you,” slurps Timberlake, his nose buried like a rooting boar.
Could this be the life that Timberlake describes in "Livin’ Off the Land"? In the corner of my eye, I see two impaled figures who look suspiciously like William Wordsworth and Aldo Leopold. It is time to go – I scurry back to the canoe like a red squirrel.
The next day begins, and I find myself in a strange region of twisted sensuality which I mark on my map as The Sexual Forest. The thick mist of Timberlake’s misplaced eroticism hangs thickly in the air, and I, disoriented, cannot help but see every feature of the land as a poorly-conceived sexual analogy. “This,” I reason, “must be the realm in which Timberlake produced 'Supplies,' a song which ridiculously associates the physical act of love with surviving societal collapse.”
Upsettingly, I am correct, and the trees, creeks, soils, deer, birds, toads, bugs, rocks, lichens, and wasps nests are all given a queasy seductive edge. I am plagued by a ceaseless and wholly unwanted erection for the duration of my time in the forest, which insists on performing shrill renditions of the album’s other misplaced sexual ballads "Filthy" and "Sauce." “I like your pink, you like my purple,” it sings annoyingly. “Whatchu gonna do with all that meat?! / Put your filthy hands all over me!” I cannot oblige – I now feel as though human intimacy is better off as something existing only in books, and I am happy to leave the forest and its cloyingly seductive fog behind.
However, the next day offers me nothing but further confusion. I awaken to discover that the forest is in fact only a projection of a forest on a bare white wall surrounded by a few strategically-placed inflatable plastic palm trees (there is a lone lawn flamingo as well). "Higher Higher" and "Midnight Summer Jam" play simultaneously from an invisible speaker system; luckily, the songs are already indistinguishable. I turn to see an extremely disinterested Pharell Williams seated at the projector, absentmindedly programming beats on a 15.4 inch Space Grey MacBook Pro W. Retina Display. “Pharrell!” I shout. “You produced dozens of classics songs over the past two decades! What are you doing on this piece of shit?” He turns to me boredly and opens his mouth, which produces the sound of a hundred thousand bison thundering across the prairie. Deafened and defeated, I return to unconsciousness.
I awaken deep in the wilderness, hog-tied and suspended upside-down over an open fire at Timberlake’s base camp, which is comprised of luxurious L.L. Bean deluxe tents and cooking tools connected to the battery of a Cadillac truck. Unaware that I am awake, Timberlake - now wearing the Levi’s special addition flannel shirt designed to accompany his song "Flannel" (yes, he really did put a song called "Flannel" on here) - inspects a leaf as though he has never seen one before. He slowly puts it in his mouth.
“What happened to you, JT?” I exclaim, death approaching at the speed of a pronghorn. “Where’s the carnal glamour of 'SexyBack' and 'Suit and Tie'? This album sounds like it was made by a horny high schooler who just back from a 3-week NOLS backpacking trip.”
Timberlake gurgles menacingly by way of response (whether he is temporarily abstaining from speech or has lost the power entirely is unclear) and raises his multi-hundred-dollar Eddie Bauer knife to my throat. I take a deep breath and prepare to join Lewis and Clark in the next world.
With the terrifying speed and precision of mountain lions, Janet Jackson and Britney Spears burst from the forest deep and proceed to repeatedly bludgeon Timberlake with river rocks until he lies comatose on the dusty ground. Wordlessly, they cut me loose before hot-wiring Timberlake’s Cadillac and speeding off through the woods. A few disembodied moments of "Gimme More" float through the night, and then they are gone.
And I, much like the three hundred thousand people who have thus far purchased Man of the Woods, am left without any sense of closure or validated effort. Sadly dejected, I begin my long walk out of the woods, never to return.