Ever since Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton teamed up at the Country Music Assocation Awards back in 2015, duetting on a two-song medley that stole the night and helped herald Stapleton as country music’s new king, fans of the two soulful Southern singers have been waiting for them to collaborate on new music. Now, after the first two tracks from Timberlake’s new album Man of the Woods landed with two consecutive thuds, the duo finally released their new song and video on Thursday.
The video, at the very least, does not disappoint. It’s best viewed without any sense of what one is about to watch, but suffice to say that if you recognize the logo of La Blogothèque that appears at the beginning, you’ll have an inkling of what you’re getting into. The French concert-film project, led by director Vincent Moon, made its name in the early days of online video in the mid-’00s with what it called “Concerts à Emporter” or “Take Away Shows.” (Update, Jan. 26, 2018: Moon has since left the project, and it is currently run by Matthieu Buchsenschutz and Blogothèque creator Christophe Abric. This video was directed by Arturo Perez Jr.) In one representative example, which bears some resemblance to this video, a small orchestra’s worth of Arcade Fire members piled into an elevator to play “Neon Bible” and then emerged directly from the elevator into a concert audience, where they play “Wake Up.”
The appeal of the Take Away Shows was always the sense of intimacy and the feeling of immediacy they conveyed, of being inches from a world-class performer as they played live, and with singers as good as Timberlake and Stapleton, not to mention musicians as top-of-the-line as Timberlake’s Tennessee Kids, it was an inspired move to take the same single-take, live approach so we could hear just how good they really are.
Which is not to say that the video simply panders to dated, ludditic notions of authenticity or “real” musicianship, either: It begins with Timberlake playing not an acoustic guitar but an MPC sampler, resembling Kanye West playing “Runaway” live at the MTV Video Music Awards more than the Eddie Bauer–catalog caricature so many of us feared when we saw songtitles like “Flannel” and “Livin’ Off the Land” on the Man of the Woods tracklist. And it only builds from there, making the best use of Los Angeles’ Bradbury Building since Blade Runner and mixing the acoustic and the futuristic more effectively than “Filthy” or “Supplies” ever did.
Is the song as strong as the video? Certainly the studio version, which was also made available Thursday on all streaming services, doesn’t have the same immediate impact that the video does. And the song’s lyrics are fairly vague—though that’s also the point. (“Sometimes the greatest the way to say something is to say nothing at all,” they sing together on the bridge.) For now, I’m not sure that question matters, because I’ll be playing the video on loop.
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