Justin Timberlake’s ‘Filthy’ Earns a Big, Funky Shrug (REVIEW)
Joke's on us, huh, Justin?
The minute-long promo clip portrays a more somber Timberlake, now 36 and a wee bit grizzled, moseying through countrysides, hanging around bonfires, wading through rivers while acoustic guitar melodies play behind. You hear his wife Jessica Biel noting: "(the album) feels like mountains, trees, campfires, like Wild West, but now."
Timberlake himself confirms his fourth solo LP — yes, this is only his fourth in 15 post-*NSYNC years, he takes his time — is "more so than any other album I've written, inspired by where I'm from."
That's Tennessee, folks. Memphis. Nashville. Country music. Stuff better suited for his imposing Tennessee Kids backing band.
Okay, fine. Justin is all grown up. No more "Rock Your Body." We get it.
We didn't get it. At least not for the first single, which dropped Thursday at midnight: a pulsating electro-funk dance track called "Filthy" that pays much greater homage to Prince than any Grand Ol' Opry entrant.
The song, co-written by Timberlake's longtime penning partners the 1500 or Nothin' camp, Danja and Timbaland, pumps in step with his 2006 smash "SexyBack," relying largely on groove and the work of a heavily distorted, retro bass line to make the nearly five-minute song move. A crashing guitar riff comes and goes between Bruno Mars-bravado quips: "Put ya filthy hands all over me" and "I guess I got my swagger back." A little more melody would've gone a long way here.
"Filthy" is a club song — strip clubs, soon enough — devoid of a traditional hook, as though Timberlake had snapped awake from his candy-colored Trolls and "Can't Stop The Feeling!" fever dream with a gasp: “I gotta reboot my cool factor.”
We all had to know his first single — the first banner pop release of 2018 — would be something pop radio stations could spin, and sure as your New Year's resolution is already broken they will try, but this feels more like a splashy reintroduction than a bona fide hit, not so different from Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” return in August, 2017.
If any part of this song plays during his Super Bowl performance, most of America is going to say, "Uh, what is this?"
I, for one, do believe much of the album, Man of the Woods, will feature country and folk flourishes, advancing Timberlake beyond the 70's-inspired tuxedo pop of The 20/20 Experience and perhaps even defining a new act that doesn't stand so steadily on Michael Jackson's shoulders. More tunes like the twangy 20/20 track "Drink You Away" are almost certainly on the way. And when the time comes for Justin to tour again with his big, loud band, this chunky jam will find its place.
But the immediate Twitter conversation Friday morning will likely remain the sentiment surrounding "Filthy" as a pure single, that of bait-and-switch surprise and general disappointment.