Justin Timberlake
Everything I Thought It Was


2.0
poor

Review

by Sowing STAFF
March 16th, 2024 | 96 replies


Release Date: 03/15/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I thought it was bad.

I’ll never forget the moment that I began to view Justin Timberlake not just as the guy from NSYNC, but as someone I legitimately revered for his artistic merit. I know the expectation is for me to immediately segue into The 20/20 Experience and gush about how it was a revolution for pop in the 2010s (I was there! It was!), but that moment came for me in 2006 with FutureSex/LoveSounds. It felt like watching someone who was merely trying to prove his independence (Justified) evolve into a slick, suited-up icon with grown man sex appeal and hooks for days. Sure, The 20/20 Experience is what eventually converted me into a full-blown JT stan, but it was evident from quite early in his solo career that Timberlake had the potential to be something special, all while redefining what boy bands and their members are capable of in one fell swoop.

Then Man of the Woods happened.

Listen, I get it – it was not a great album. In fact, it was probably his worst at the time. The vision to portray himself as some axe-wielding, flannel-sporting lumberjack-next-door while Jessica Biel creepily whispered in the background was dubious at best. However, particularly in hindsight, I can at least understand why he did it. After conquering pop with The 20/20 Experience, it made sense to see how far he could push his experimentation and in what direction(s). And honestly, country wasn’t the worst bet. There are still moments on Man of the Woods that tempt me into thinking that the whole thing just got a bad rap, even if I’m fairly certain that I’m the only person alive (including Timberlake) who still regularly spins ‘Livin’ off the Land’ and thinks it’s actually gorgeous. But I digress, because all things considered, Man of the Woods – even if well-intended – was more than just the inevitable letdown to follow a masterpiece…it was so disappointing that it knocked his entire trajectory off course called his legacy into question.

The problem now, in light of Everything I Thought It Was, is that with each successive poor outing, Timberlake’s early career success is beginning to look like more and more like a fluke. Not only is his sixth LP arguably worse than Man of the Woods, I can’t even see the vision this time. There was no effort put into building a theme or sense of unity between tracks, and this album sure as hell isn’t trying to explore any new territory. It begs the question: what exactly was Justin trying to accomplish here? We all suspected that he would take a safer approach after his fifth LP landed as a colossal failure among critics and fans, but a seventy-seven minute hookless slog through recycled pop trends is not likely what anyone had in mind either. The album feels like the byproduct of an artist who had little to lose but still chose to play it safe anyway, while simultaneously aging out of his own scene thanks to a lethargic showing brimming with references that feel unironically dated. He was in a rut, and instead of trying his hand at another evolution, he retreated.

Amid the dense murk of Everything’s ambitionless songwriting and boring melodies, few moments of promise do shine through, however sporadically. It’s a shame that ‘Play’’s funky, offbeat energy consumes just two-plus minutes of this thing’s enormous runtime, and that the raw honesty of ‘Memphis’ evaporates into thin air before it can become a motif. ‘Selfish’ is presumably a heartfelt ode to Timberlake’s wife, and despite its cliches, genuinely loving someone to the point of not wanting to share them – and singing about it in a ballad – will never go out of style. The rock crescendo on 'Sanctified' is something that's different for him, even if the studio version doesn't live up to his electric SNL performance from a few months back, while 'My Favorite Drug' is just fun and danceable enough to survive the cringe-inducing "hey fellas/hey ladies – yeah" call and response. There are remnants of Justin’s classic charm to be found across Everything I Thought It Was, but they’re like shards of an ancient relic scattered across a barren desert.

It’s nearly impossible to see the light outside of these few moments, where even the most dedicated fans are still required to meet Timberlake 80% of the way in order to garner any real pleasure. The self-referential 'F**kin up the Disco' sounds like a classic Timberlake tune and is certainly produced like one, but fails to become memorable at any point (a fate that's even more painfully obvious on the nearly seven and a half minute 'Technicolor'). ‘No Angels’ has a danceable beat that sounds like it belongs in a nightclub, but the melody comes with the same side of amnesia as a night spent pounding shots at the liquor bar. 'Liar' again sees Justin going through the motions – DNA-wise, it has the makeup of a pre-Man of the Woods song – but you’re truly blessed if you can recall anything about it afterwards. 'Infinity Sex' is mildly awkward lyrically (“infinity sex, girl / the future is a mess”) and once again offers nothing in the way of a real hook, while 'Love & War' has a nice chorus but wears its influences on its sleeve a bit too liberally. ‘Alone’ is devastatingly tedious and feels like a desperate swipe of the pen to check off that “heartfelt ballad” box that ‘Selfish’ already accomplishes far better – and only one track prior, no less. ‘Paradise’ digs NSYNC out of the grave to help prop up this bloated affair, but raises more questions than it answers – if JT was a part of NSYNC and goes solo only to bring the band back, is it really “featuring NSYNC” or is it just a reunion track? Again, what was the goal here? Nostalgia? All roads lead back to what Justin Timberlake wanted this album to actually represent, and the more I listen to Everything the more I’m convinced that the answer is nothing. Maybe that’s okay. Not all pop albums need to be a plot to revolutionize pop music – but as someone who has – for the most part, anyway – viewed Timberlake as a gifted creator and genre visionary, it’s certainly disappointing to see him acquiesce so quickly and willingly after one poorly received experiment.

JT is undoubtedly a talented singer, and perhaps it’s unfair to place the burden of constantly reshaping pop squarely upon his shoulders. He gave us some truly iconic records in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and maybe that was his time and now we’re on to someone else. However, even if that’s the case, I’m still barely able to pick apart the difference between most of these tracks – even after listening to the album several times. No matter how you spin it, that’s a big issue. One might have assumed that six years between releases would have been enough time, but it seems like Timberlake needs to sit down and truly think about where he wants to take his music for the rest of his life. Does he want to become something of a legacy act? That’s fine, he's earned as much – but write better songs with more memorable hooks. Hell, just keep creating summer jams like ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ and nobody will complain. Want to make it your mission to be viewed as someone who always kept pop on its toes, constantly remolding expectations? Then be able to deal with the occasional miss – because for as poor as Man of the Woods was, at least it was ambitious…unlike whatever this amorphous clump of hackneyed trends is. I’d say Justin can’t afford to park himself in musical purgatory, but he can – and maybe that’s the most frustrating part. If this is the path for Timberlake’s artistic future, then he's not everything I thought he was.



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user ratings (49)
2.4
average
other reviews of this album
ghostalgeist (2.5)
Nothing but the surface....



Comments:Add a Comment 
tmagistrelli
March 16th 2024


842 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I'm very surprised at the critical reactions of this compared to the public reactions. Album is fun, albeit long in spots. I get the same charm from a lot of this as I did 20/20 part 2, or portions of MOTW

Sowing
Moderator
March 16th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I hear it in spurts, but it's the vibe/production only without any of the catchy hooks or interesting songwriting. This thing is 18 tracks and I'd say there's really only 3-4 songs that are excellent. I could whittle it down to a 10 track pop album that might push a 3.5, but that's about it.

Slex
March 16th 2024


16610 Comments


Lmao that summary

Seeing mixed things about this still gotta listen

nol
March 16th 2024


12090 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

it’s really really bad and you don’t have to listen to whole album to come to that conclusion

nol
March 16th 2024


12090 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

like it’s 1 season yall

Sowing
Moderator
March 16th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I was initially ready to review this at a 1 or 1.5, but some of the songs were able to grow on me as I formulated my thoughts. I wouldn't say this is better than Man of the Woods though, which while not great is also mildly overhated. I could make a better 10 song LP from that than I could this.

tmagistrelli
March 16th 2024


842 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I thought about entertaining the above comment but I can't put together 10 songs from MOTW that I really enjoyed. That album was at its best when it leaned the hell into it's premise. Tracks like supplies or sauce exhudes where the contemporary Frankenstein elements of it fell short.



In this albums defense in comparison, when it goes contemporary it doesn't have the banjo pluckin contrast.

onionbubs
March 16th 2024


21090 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

this is as close to a 1 as it is any reasonable higher respectable ratings tbh. album is fine and even dare i say good in a lot of places, just aint good enough



its hilarious that yall think this enough that you wanna try and narratively make it seem like man of the woods isnt that bad though. like, incomparably dogshit album lmao. that is the one bar that this unmistakably clears without question

Sowing
Moderator
March 16th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

That's fair, I just found most of this to be terribly unmemorable.

onionbubs
March 16th 2024


21090 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

"it’s certainly disappointing to see him acquiesce so quickly and willingly after one poorly received experiment"



tbh i kinda dont see what else he was supposed to do rn, because its not really just one failed experiment at this point when he's also been a massive pr punching bag for at least a year now beyond just music



i think he prob felt like he had to play it safe to win back a lot of public goodwill so he leaned pretty safely into a lot of past sounds here, which is frustrating bc 20/20 is the only jt that i genuinely love so it is clearly not what i want lol. id say it seems like something he needs to get out of his system before he can start doing cool stuff again but thats a complete gamble for someone who never does music now and only had one amazing album to begin with lmao. certainly an unfortunate album even as not a hater of it

ghostalgeist
March 16th 2024


751 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I like how we both ended our reviews with essentially the exact same zinger



great writeup, sowing

Sowing
Moderator
March 16th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I mean, I get that he's been a PR punching bag for a variety of reasons, but it's still one failed experiment. Everything prior to that was well-received. Sort of like I outlined in the concluding paragraph, I would have been fine with him returning to his roots if the songs were well-written and catchy (as per his typical calling card). I also would have been fine with him getting right back in the saddle and trying something creative again, although I understand the risk after MotW tanked so hard. This, on the other hand, is both safe and boring. It's a lose/lose IMO.

Sowing
Moderator
March 16th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

---I like how we both ended our reviews with essentially the exact same zinger---



Thanks! I'll have to go read your write-up now, you always write good reviews and I typically agree with them.

onionbubs
March 16th 2024


21090 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i do think these songs are generally catchy at least. bunch of these show that the dude still knows his way around a hook. thats like one of the few things this has going for it



also damn upon further scanning the songs you dig are among my least favs lol i think play and memphis are horrible

Sowing
Moderator
March 16th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Weird because I genuinely can't recall very much from this melodically besides Selfish, Play, and Sanctified lol. Differing opinions are all good though, maybe one day I'll see the light here but after several spins it's not promising.

onionbubs
March 16th 2024


21090 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

its a pretty dim light to see anyway tbf lol. sanctified and technicolor are the only two that i really see myself coming back to long term

Sowing
Moderator
March 16th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I was excited when I first saw the track length for Technicolor, but I found it difficult to sit through. Nothing really happens outside of that tempo change a couple minutes in.

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
March 16th 2024


18868 Comments


The summary got me giggling and/or chuckling

Odal
Staff Reviewer
March 16th 2024


2095 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Another excellent review.



I think the biggest issue here is the retreat in ambition that you highlighted, but even that retreat is a half-measure. There are many moments where Justin clearly is aping a lot of modern trends to convince he’s “still got it.” He’s pulling himself in too many directions here at the same, which ironically makes him remain in the same place throughout. The alarm bells were ringing for me as soon as he lead things with “Selfish”



I’ve seen a lot of thinkpieces about the ageism in pop and while I certainly think that’s a factor, I think it’s moreso a call that’s coming from inside the house that leads some artists to score some Own Goals. And I think that’s exactly what happened with Justin here. Justin slinks back from any real risk after a series embarrassments -both professional and personal- as an attempt to play to his strengths, which he thinks involves having to be the coolest guy in the room. Him being that guy is just frankly not possible anymore, and there are plenty of ways that he could’ve played off of it! But no, instead he hits us with the same tired ground when I think the public would’ve been hungry for anything honest and focused. You’re seeing Ariana navigate that right now, Kanye did it with Dark Fantasy, Taylor had reputation. There are so many pop icons who have put out excellent, daring material in their 40’s as well. The ageism excuse is tired and lame.



Oh well.

nol
March 16th 2024


12090 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

this is worse than man of the woods no question, and that shit was terrible



Talk about an artist on a downward trend, sheesh



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