Thursday 8 February 2018

Justin Timberlake - Man Of The Woods

Justin Timberlake - Man Of The Woods

We all know Justin Timberlake can write a good pop song. He proved that with his earlier albums. He proved it again in 2016 with the ubiquitous Can’t Stop The Feeling – a family friendly, cuddly toy of a song.

But Justin Timberlake wants to be taken seriously. He’s above pop music now. He’s a man of the woods. He’s into authenticity (whatever that is), acoustic instruments, beards and terrible, terrible suits. This all manifests in his newest album in which he attempts to splice together the disparate music worlds of modern R&B and country. It’s not a happy union.

Aside from the awkward implications of appropriating music from opposing ends of the racial spectrum (or perhaps it’s admirable that he’s trying?), in practice this musical fusion mainly consists of adding some twangy guitars to 808 beats. The title track, for instance, is a teeth-grindingly twee little ditty, or there’s Wave that clumsily pairs a jaunty country song with a smooth half-time beat. And on the saccharine Flannel, a campfire sing-along and semi-spoken verse are underpinned by a light electronic beat – it is Americana at its dampest.

It’s the lyrics that grate most of all, though. If Timberlake wishes to be taken seriously, perhaps he needs to stop questioning “what you gonna do with all that meat?”, claiming “I love your pink, you like my purple” or that he’s a “jealous lover”, or goading women with lines like “come on, don’t be passive”. ‘Man Of The Woods’ is leaden with limp sexual metaphors, Timberlake’s idea of romance being “a spa day and bonfires”. It is vapid stuff.

On the flip side are songs that lean more heavily on the modern R&B influences. After the album’s bizarre teaser trailer, Timberlake’s proper return was with lead single Filthy that’s decidedly futuristic: a dirty beat, Prince-esque funk, and a video in which he dances with a robot. He’s certainly not Livin’ Off The Land here. Supplies, however, is so try-hard hip-hop that its pastiche sounds like a spoof song from The Lonely Island. Somewhere in the middle are some interesting tracks: the driving bass of Montana and its evocative mix of whirring synths and funk guitars; or the yearning melodies and layered Timbaland production of Say Something complete with vocals from Chris Stapleton for that extra hit of country authenticity. The trouble is these songs get lost – at sixteen tracks the album is exhaustingly long with horribly mixed results. Less a man of the woods, Timberlake seems utterly lost in his own self-indulgent, pretentious fantasy bubble.

Easily the best song of the lot is Midnight Summer Jam: an infectious disco tune with an effervescent chorus decorated with fiddles, harmonica and (worryingly) gunshots, and a glorious breakdown in its final section. It’s like a twilit cowboy rave, but equally it wouldn’t sound out of place on previous album ‘The 20/20 Experience’. Which begs the question: why bother with this man of the woods shtick anyway?

2/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Filthy
* Midnight Summer Jam
* Montana

Listen: 'Man Of The Woods' is out now.