Album review: Justin Timberlake – Man Of The Woods

Justin Timberlake’s latest album Man Of The Woods has received his worst reviews of his career, but after hitting the number one spot already, it appears to still be resonating with his fan base…

The project was billed as a combination of rural and urban influences, and in the album’s trailer we saw ultra-countryfied imagery. His new flannel-obsessed look aimed to represent the album’s musical style, and his return to his Tennessee roots, described as “Americana with 808’s”. This sketchy fusion of acoustic and electronic elements has been slated like never before, from professional critics to social media comments, it appeared to be doomed before it even had a chance.

Man Of The Woods marks Timberlake’s 5th solo album, and features guest appearances from country singer Chris Stapleton and R&B vocalist Alicia Keys, as well as production credits from an impressive trio. The Neptunes and Pharrell were heavily involved, alongside long term collaborator Timbaland and Danja. The album does flirt with a number of styles that you may not associate with classic Timberlake, but the resulting funk/R&B/pop/soul/country mashup is far from ground breaking.

As a young man we knew Timberlake as one of N-Sync’s shining stars, as Britney Spears’ boyfriend, and as the white guy brave/stupid enough to rock corn rows. His playboy reputation still precedes him, but on Man Of The Woods, his not-so-subtle sexual conquest brags are beginning to sound embarrassing. He appears to find it necessary to continue playing this character at times, meaning that his more tender ‘love song’ moments sound insincere.

This album has had the misfortune of having almost been written off by many before they had even heard it, but this awful reputation has not slowed down sales too much. Figures aside though, this release has already earned the title of his worst yet, regardless of its chart-topping success. He has even clinched a deal to perform at the Super Bowl, 14 years since his involvement in the controversial Janet Jackson ‘wardrobe malfunction’; Janet on the other hand struggled to rebuild her career even after a heartfelt public apology.

The projects dodgy lyrics, messy songwriting and misguided theme may have put off most, but hidden in the mediocrity there are still a handful of catchy, danceable pop songs. “Midnight Summer Jam” is an obvious pick, with impressive production and an unmistakably Pharrell-tinged falsetto vocal part (which of course Timberlake pulls off with ease). It is the album’s first real party starter, not quite vintage Timberlake but a valiant effort nonetheless. “Sauce” then attempts to channel some Prince-esque vibes, but instead we hear some of the most confused 4 minutes of the entire project.

Timberlake’s ego gets in the way of the album’s attempts at softer ballads, and generally there are more soppy car crashes than smooth rides; but with a voice as flexible as his there is always something charming about his music. “Say Something” was produced by hitmaker Timberland, but other than a few awkward attempts to be current, the track is just another bland, repetitive number. “Wave” brings some Caribbean flare with a reggae/ska arrangement, but the half-hearted and strange songwriting lets it down once again. “Montana” is another stand out moment in an otherwise underwhelming release, and on “Young Man” his empty fatherly advice to his son fails to evoke much emotion.

Regardless of what the critics think, Man Of The Woods is selling like hot cakes, and maybe it will get better with time. However, there is no denying that this will be seen by many as another failure from the pop elite, following in the missteps of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry’s recent outings. It was never going to reach the former glory of smash hits like “Cry Me A River”, but hopefully this album’s stand out track “Midnight Summer Jam” will prove its longevity; we will have to wait another ten years to find out. Come and make up your own mind by testing out Man Of The Woods on one of our hi-fi systems in the demo room of your local Richer Sounds today.