Even though I do not subscribe to cable TV anymore, I was able to watch the Eagles win the Super Bowl thanks to the kindness of some of our good friends who still do. They hosted an evening of football that included one of the best games of all time (nobody really wants to watch defense anyway, right?) and a halftime performance by Justin Timberlake, one of those singers who somehow appeals to every woman in the room simultaneously regardless of age or musical preference.
As is often the case, Timberlake's timing was not coincidental. He has a new album to promote, and he performed ten or so minutes of tightly choreographed boogying that amounted to a commercial for his record and the accompanying tour. But here's the thing:
Timberlake's album is a lie.
Entitled Man of the Woods, it features the boy-band graduate posing in a pasture full of horses surrounded by majestic mountains. He looks like the Marlboro Man in his rugged jacket and scruffy beard. All of the imagery associated with Timberlake's new music seems to indicate that he has traded in his lifelong obsession with Michael Jackson for the influences of Clint Black, slide guitars and the Grand Ole Opry.
But Timberlake's Super Bowl show proved that all of that high-priced photography was a smokescreen for music that sounds exactly like everything else the artist has ever recorded.
Remember when Michael Jackson tried to show us that he was a street-wise gang kid in his music videos?
Jackson had his first number one hit when he was eleven years old. His father may have been a jerk, but Michael Jackson was much more Donny Osmond than he was Donnie Brasco. Timberlake now seems to be emulating his hero.
Why the bait and switch? It's hard to say. Perhaps Timberlake, who is now inching toward 40, has crashed headlong into a mid-life crisis. I can sympathize. I used to think those old guys with their comb-overs and their jacked up Corvettes looked ridiculous, but now they've become strangely appealing (the cars, not the hair cuts). Maybe if I was a singer who had been imprisoned by one particular musical style, I would do the same thing: Look at me! I'm rugged! I'm sponsored by the Montana Office of Tourism! I'm not secretly terrified that one of these horses is going to chew on my ridiculously furry collar!
But I hope that if I did, I would at least make some music that backed it up. If you're going to cook up an image for a country western album (yes, both country and western), then play something that sounds at least vaguely country. Before Taylor Swift hit her head and woke up thinking she was a fashion model, she successfully proved that you can succeed in country music without sounding very much like country at all. Man of the Wood's sole attempt at a down-home sound – "The Hard Stuff" – is, ironically, a little too soft.
He traded in his Suit and Tie for a Canadian Tuxedo, but it doesn't quite fit.
Justin Timberlake isn't Kid Rock, but it sort of looks like he got into his closet. Pick a side, JT. You've sold millions of albums. You have a beautiful family. You've got a life that most people only dream about. But who are you really?