Justin Timberlake is back. Back from the forest, to be specific. That's the perception the singer wants to give off on his newest album, "Man of the Woods."

The name is a derivation of the Latin for Silas, the name of his firstborn son. It suggests a more country and ambient sound than his previous pop-infused anthems. To some degree, that comes to pass. Yet to the average ear, the distinction Timberlake is trying to make becomes blurred in a sonic cacophony. It all makes for one of his more disappoint projects in a long time.

About the album

"Man of the Woods" is the fifth studio album from Justin Timberlake, who famously doesn't put out new records all that often.

This was his first since "The 20/20 Experience" almost five years ago. This record was produced primarily by Timberlake and The Neptunes and released on February 2, 2018.

Timberlake reportedly began considering the album shortly after his previous release. He recorded between 2016 and 2017. It's heavily influenced by the birth of Silas, as well as his wife Jessica Biel. It was also inspired by the Memphis (where Timberlake was born) and Tennessee as a whole. Unlike his previous works, it also doesn't devolve and evolve into seven and a half minute symphonies with interludes on each track. What you hear is very much what you get.

Timberlake forages for beats

There has often been a message linked with Timberlake: his goal is to make people dance.

Ostensibly, that's what he's trying to do on "Man of the Woods." Just take the first single and first song on the album, "Filthy." There's a sultry, robotic dance beat reminiscent of "SexyBack" in some ways, with a video that reinforces the message. There's very little lyrical depth or melody, though.

With Pharrell's help, the sounds starts to evolve from there.

"Midnight Summer Jam" is groovy, albeit repetitive. "Sauce" has the same persona (after a really necessary explanation of what the phrase means at the beginning of the track).

The title track is where a real problem begins to emerge. "Man of the Woods" sounds good, sonically speaking. But there's something missing. It's not entirely possible to pinpoint what exactly that something is.

Maybe it's that Timberlake is trying to be soulful when that should be left to other artists. Maybe the lyrical content is simply lacking.

Or maybe it's the sheer redundancy of the whole project. Every track starts and ends in the same place. None of the songs really evolve, and the album as a whole doesn't appear to evolve either. It remains stuck in place, like a tree suffering from Dutch elm disease.

Take "Higher Higher," for example. What hooks a listener into that song? The static nature of the song stunts growth opportunities, with the track remaining nothing more than a seedling. "Wave" crests several times, but never reaches the shore. Timberlake has the right concept, but the wrong execution.

'Man of the Woods' goes missing

Sometimes, the whole motif of nature is dropped entirely. "Supplies" has nothing to do with any of it; ironically, it has the most in-depth lyrics on the album. Neither does "Filthy," as we already covered.

The collaborations in the middle of "Man of the Woods" serve as a nice break. First to the plate is Alicia Keys on "Morning Light." She always lends a vocal authority to a track, with perfect, soulful credibility. Then, Chris Stapleton steps in on "Say Something," which is already a massive hit. The track has the same lack of evolution problem, but it's just catchy and soulful enough to work.

Then, Timberlake begins to get into the more personal part of the album.

After an interlude featuring Biel, the first of several cute songs come on with "Flannel." No other songs come to mind featuring the concept that lovers identify with pieces of worn clothing - it's adorable and true. A similar idea runs through "The Hard Stuff," which will rhetorically beg the question: does Timberlake want the hard stuff?

Silas closes things out at the end, creating a true family affair. The last song is clearly an ode to his son, which is cute on many levels. That theme should've bookended the album, rather than closed it with "Filthy" standing at the top.

Final thoughts

There are almost two records within "Man of the Woods" - the one Justin Timberlake wants to make and the one he feels he has to make.

He said he would make people dance. But he just wants to dote over his family, which is perfectly normal and can lead to quite the artistic endeavor.

The mix creates an album that feels lost in the forest, with the trees quickly closing in on the artist.

Best Song: "Morning Light" - Timberlake and Keys should collaborate more often.

Worst Song: "Higher Higher" - Didn't hook me.

Rating: C