In an overwhelmingly ironic twist, Justin Timberlake’s first record in five years opens with the line ‘If you know what’s good’. Unfortunately, it seems that poor ol’ ‘trousersnake’ doesn’t seem to have much of an idea himself anymore.
The whole record sounds like JT is aping a box of Chic, Sly Stone and Funkadelic records he’s just found in the attic. Sounding loose can often be a good thing but not when the songs are completely unstructured and directionless.
As for the lyrics, it’s innuendo after innuendo. We’re not even three songs in and he’s already differentiating the male and female genitalia by colour. Thanks for the (evidently purple) tip all the same, Justin. Were it not completely devoid of any kind of humour or wit you’d have thought Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown was the Bernie Taupin to Justin’s Elton John.
Man of the Woods is full of brash, painfully forced declarations about where he’s from in a tone that hints at some sort of ethnically diverse ‘hood where the tunes are cranked up, the party never stops and you’re never allowed to forget your place in the food chain. I suppose that could be seen as a loose description of the Mickey Mouse Club.
The building blocks of Man of the Woods were forged in the studio and every production avenue is explored to an impressive degree. Ultimately though, it just serves as meat on brittle bones. With the majority of the tracks just a clutter of repeated phrases, presumably meant to be hooks, there’s a hollowness to much of this record.
There are periodic moments of brilliance but they are all too fleeting. The lo-fi title track is a more traditionally structured song and one of the only instances on the record of all elements coming together well. Even given all of its plus points, the song still drifts off into a pointlessly intrusive, insipidly dull middle section.
Even a cameo from the wonderful Alicia Keys fails to inject any virility; in fact it may well be the nadir of this peak-shy trough. With so much bombast, bright sparkly production and a bell and whistle heavy approach, Man of the Woods is one of those rare albums where the appeal decreases with each listen. There is undoubtedly some ear-catching stuff on the first couple of spins but with each rotation it becomes less and less fulfilling. And yes, I’m fully aware that referring to music as something that rotates makes me auld.
Marry this pedestrian offering with JT’s performance at this year’s Super Bowl – even a wet-behind-the-ears Butlin’s Redcoat would think about a career change after such a showing – and it’s becoming more and more difficult to see a route back to genuine relevancy for Timberlake.