Man of the Woods

by Justin Timberlake

It’s been five long years since we last heard from the man who single-handidly brought sexy back, but the JT has finally returned. But what do you do to announce you’re back on the scene? Well, if you’re Justin, you perform at a small event that attracts a global audience of 103 million, AKA the Super Bowl.

Of course Justin is an old hand at performing at this event; he sang alongside Janet Jackson of course in 2004, where he played his part in her notorious ‘wardrobe malfunction’, which is difficult to forget. Some, rather cruelly, thought he had one of his own this year, with a curious, individual look he went with for his show. He certainly stood out, that’s for sure.

So now the whole world knows he’s back, with the terribly titled Man of the Woods.

boom - Justin Timberlake - Man of the Woods image

This rural journey begins with the first single release ‘Filthy’. With an intro that’s a horror spoof you’d expect from a boy band, NSYNC say, before it finds its funk, and consequently, its rhythm. It’s silky smooth, as you would expect from JT, with a bass line that keeps on hitting the spot. Sadly the horror spoof antics return, which let the side down somewhat.

The funk steps up a gear with ‘Midnight Summer Jam’. It’s up tempo with a classic seventies vibe that washes right over you. It’s got those little touches thrown in there too for good measure that make it a JT track.

If you’re willing to believe the opening line of this next track “sauce is forever”. O-kay...Herein Justin gets his Prince on, with both the cheeky title of the track – ‘Sauce’ – and with the musical content, which has the diminutive Minnesotan oozing all the way through it, like a cream-filled doughnut.

‘Man of the Woods’ isn’t as busy on the production side as most here, and benefits from it. It’s fun and frothy, just like JT himself. Although it’s difficult to understand what the line “I’m a man of the woods it’s my pride” means; answers on a postcard please.

boom reviews Justin Timberlake - Man of the Woods

Justin gets his sultry groove with ‘Higher, Higher’, although by his standards, it sounds more like filler than killer. Some will fall for his “your special” line, but it won’t be us, we’ve had that all before...

‘Wave’ is next, which bounces a long, if a little clunkily. It sounds like it’s stuck, like CD’s used to be after a while. It’s a curious mix of being joyful, albeit soulless. If you were to skip it, it’s not a track you’d necessarily miss.

‘Supplies’ on the other hand, is not to be missed. It’s a little bit gangsta, and if your Mini had hydraulics, you’d pump it up at the lights – both the track and your vehicle. It also name checks The Walking Dead, which makes it that bit cooler. Oh that bass is badass.

Joining JT on ‘Morning Light’ is the one and only Alicia Keys. If you like those saccharine songs you find on certain Pixar flicks, you’ll be right at home here. It’s a little bit too cosy, and, dare we say it, annoyingly generic. A waste of talent on two counts.

Hoping for a stronger collaboration, JT teams up with Country singer Chris Stapleton on ‘Say Something’. With Stapleton included, it has an expectedly country twang, but overlaid with JT’s cool, which is a hard feat to pull off, but that’s what they do. The vocals work well together, and the track is an unexpected highlight.

There’s a curious interlude that follows, entitled ‘Hers’, which is a real oddity, but maybe it’s JT experimenting a little.

boom reviews Justin Timberlake - Man of the Woods

Talking of experimenting. ‘Flannel’. A truly awful track. Clive Dunn, who for those who don’t know, played Jones in the classic BBC comedy Dad’s Army. Because of the success of the character in the show, he recorded a grating song called ‘Grandad’, which ended up being a hit. Well, this is Justin’s ‘Grandad’ and he should be totally ashamed of himself. It’s the kind of muzak they play in shops at Christmas time that just wants you to ram your credit card into the orifice of any passing assistant, in a vain attempt to get them to stop. ‘Flannel’ indeed.

Moving on. Swiftly. ‘Montana’ has that seventies flow in its production, which is most welcome thanks to the previous noise. It’s got groove, for sure, but it doesn’t grab you passionately, telling you that you’re going home together, with only its eyes. Instead, it waves awkwardly from the other side of the room, hoping you’ll notice it. You may well not.

That retro sound continues with ‘Breeze Off the Pond’. It sounds like a euphemism for farting, which it may well be. Like a fart, the song lingers in the air for bit, before moving on. After the initial impact, it soon fades from memory.

More hokey dialogue kicks off ‘Living Off the Land’. It’s about farming. Maybe. If it is, it may well be the first R&B track about agriculture. Dig it, man. Maybe JT is taking the whole story telling thing a little too far now. Bury it somewhere where it can’t be found. Ever.

‘The Hard Stuff’. Not great.

Thankfully, track sixteen finally arrives, marking the finale of this wooded misadventure. ‘Young Man’ is a song for JT’s son, who may well feature on the track. It’s sentimental bilge and should be kept for the nursery.

What a trip. Like most trips, some bits of it were worth it more than others. With sixteen tracks of varying quality, you can hear those in the back whining “are we nearly there yet?” at the half way mark, and unfortunately, it’s pretty much downhill from that point in. But a slow, crawl downhill, making a real uphill struggle.

What isn’t at fault is the production; JT has The Neptunes, Timbaland, Danja, J-Roc, Eric Hudson and Rob Knox all taking turns twiddling the knobs, and they do a swell job. Where it falters however, is with the conception. Justin goes down roads he hasn’t been before, which is good for an artist to experiment and explore, but many are dead ends that we really didn’t need to hear.

In truth, the album should have been halved, making it more cohesive, and bearable. Lees would certainly have been more.

Lots of ideas then for his fifth album, but not a classic. Hopefully Justin has got it out of his system, and bringing sexy back services will resume shortly.

And maybe spend a little more time on the next album’s title; this one paints the picture of a serial killer, roaming the countryside, digging holes and filling them with his victims. Someone get Justin back in the big, bad city, and quick.

three out of five