Album review: Justin Timberlake - Man of the woods

Review: Justin Timberlake - Man of the woods | Random J Pop

Right from the jump I'm gonna say that this is one of Justin Timberlake's worst albums. It's a fucking mess.

Whilst an albums' visual aesthetic and theme not matching the music is not cause for crucifixion, the disconnect on Justin's fourth offering (I'm not counting The 20/20 experience 2 of 2 as an album, that shit was a mixtape at best) is glaring.

One of the worst things Justin could have done was to lead the narrative of the album with his lumberjack foolishness. It sets an expectation for the album before you even hear it, which is why "Filthy" was such a shock. It felt like it had no place in this world that Justin had seemingly created for Man of the woods, despite it actually being one of the better cuts on this album in place of the faux western nonsense.

What feels so off about Justin's muse in the form of his declaration of whiteness, is that it's a case of him, once again, adopting a persona, using something pre-existing and glaringly unoriginal, then telling us how it's a vehicle for who he truly is...again. Just when I thought I know what Justin was about musically (i.e biting classic artists) he drops Man of the woods and now I have no idea. But not in the good way. By this point Justin should have a clear vision of his sound. After all, for all of the copy catting that he did with his past 3 albums, the consistency in their sounds and his commitment to it is what made them good. But here, Justin has no clue. It wouldn't be so bad if the music for the most part was genuinely good but it's fucking awful.

Man of the woods makes statements, but not the ones Justin probabaly intended. There's a lot going on with this record and very little of it is actually good.

Man of the woods also puts his white privilege glaringly front and centre. By adopting this outback country vibe, it's like he's finally decided to out his whiteness after years are trying to show how 'down' he is. Often unaware that his privilege of whiteness has contributed to getting him this far as a solo act, even if he was doing it under a hive of black talent. It really puts a spotlight on how Justin has managed to navigate his entire career off the backs of others. Whether it's been *NSync, JC 'Best vocalist in the group' Chasez, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Timbaland or Pharrell Williams.

After being a notable force in Justin's solo career since the very beginning, Timbaland takes a back seat across this album. Not only does he only contribute to 4 of its 15 songs, but they're not your typical Timbaland productions. When you heard "Cry me a river", there was no mistaking that Timbaland had produced it. But all of Timbaland's productions here either sound like Danja productions first and foremost or just anybody productions. Especially alongside The Neptunes' contributions which for the most part are distinctly Pharrell. But what unifies both Timbaland and The Neptunes' productions is how lackadaisical they are. What's delivered here is far from the cutting edge sound that made both Timbaland and The Neptunes' so sought after and distinguished. The best cuts on this album barely hold a candle to anything they gave Justin on his debut Justified.

Each album of Justin's up until this point has had something which has defined it in some way. Justified was defined as the album that sounded like Michael Jackson off-cuts. FutureSex/LoveSounds was strongly defined by sounding like a cross between a Prince and a David Bowie album. The 20/20 experience was defined by its throwback slickness. There's nothing that really defines Man of the woods musically aside from the odd musical cues here and there to remind folk that this album is influenced by Country music. Even the sole fact of Timbaland and The Neptunes producing the whole thing doesn't define it, because Justin did an album with the three of them 16 years ago and did a much better job of it back then.

Man of the woods is the first album of Justin's which seems to have a narrative, but it's so badly executed on every front that the end result is an album which either comes off as over thought or not thought through enough.

Justin Timberlake - Man of the woods | Random J Pop

What's so baffling about this album is that the concept shouldn't have been difficult to pull off, and yet Justin managed to balls it up completely. Even if you took the Country / Southern narrative out of the equation, the album is still a mess because the songs are just plain bad. This was not the album for Justin to reunite with The Neptunes. That shit should have happened on The 20/20 experience where their funk driven sound would have worked wonders. The actual thought of The 20/20 experience part 1 being the Timbo disc and part 2 being The Neptunes disc has me borderline upset. Pharrell is not the producer that you call when you want a Country tinged sound, because he can't fucking do it. He proved that point with Miley's Bangerz.

The Neptunes productions also feel like one trick Pony's. Most of their songs feature the same damn rubberband 808 which is so prominent across every song that it causes them all to bleed into one sound. The only track on this album which stands out and feels distinct is "Montana" because it sounds more like a Daft Punk production and is so different to anything The Neptunes have ever done.

It's strange to me that Justin didn't utilise Timbaland more for the Country tinged songs, given that he had served this sound and served it well for the likes of "I think she knows", "What goes around, comes around" and Rihanna's "Rehab" and Madonna's "Miles away", both of which Justin co-wrote. Timbaland had also done this Country / R&B fusion shit way back with Kiley Dean's "America" and Bubba Sparrxx's Deliverance album to great effect. So I have no idea why this sound fell heavier on Pharrell's shoulders when Timbaland has the credentials to show he can deliver it better.

Justin has never been the best song writer. Something which seems to come to the forefront more and more with each album, as the productions become richer and more elaborate. You'd think this would mask the shoddy lyrics. But instead, it draws them out, because the richness of the music is not met by the lyrics. Justin's penmanship or lack there-of, is more evident here than its ever been. Not helped in part by Pharrell, who despite being the mastermind behind so many hits over the past millennium also pens questionable and downright awful lyrics.

The lyrics are made worse by really strange (or downright lazy) song structures. The Neptunes are known for their song punctuating bridge sections and middle-8's, but none of them really stick out here. The ones which do exists feel anti-climatic and are negated by coming in too early, at the wrong times or being repeated too soon after being introduced the first time. The song structures feel lazy and like a case of Pharell having his engineer just copy and paste sections of songs to pad them out and make them unnecessarily longer. "Midnight Summer jam", "Higher higher", "Wave", "Breeze off the pond" are needlessly longer than they need to be. You go from thinking 'Oh, this song is kinda alright' to 'Shit. Is this not over yet?'

Man of the woods is one of the first Justin Timberlake albums to feature flat out terrible songs. Some of the cuts on this album are so fucking bad. The album title track is some Yogi bear sounding bullshit, which contrasts greatly to how dramatic the visual teaser for his album was. The "Hers" interlude is a complete mess and its follow up song "Flannel" is a joke with no punchline. It's difficult to take this album seriously when the whole thing is so horrendously executed.

The only thing I can positively say about this album is that it features great vocal production. Justin doesn't have the best voice, but he knows his voice. There are some amazing harmonies and vocal layering work on this album. Even the shitty songs get some good ass vocal arrangement.

There's no way this album could be cut, chopped or re-arranged to be remotely good. The whole damn thing should be thrown away and swiftly followed up with something else. Justin has a couple of songs which would make great Summer singles to offset the ill chosen ones out the gate. "Midnight Summer jam" is a genuinely good song which does a stand-up job of fusing something hard hitting for the clubs with a Country twang. And whilst "Wave" sounds like something from a Spongebob movie, there's no denying how catchy and radio friendly it is.

I thought Justin was like Telfon. He still kind of is given that this album debuted on the Billboard 200 at number 1. But what this album shows is that Justin doesn't appear to have the handle on his sound that he appeared to with his previous hat trick of albums. Whilst I was initially excited to hear that he was teaming back up with The Neptunes and that The Neptunes were still a thing after Pharrell producing solo for so many years and Chad Hugo disappearing from the face of the Earth, there is zero pay off with this album. I almost wish that Justin had actually cut more tracks with Max Martin and Shellback, the guys behind "Can't stop the feeling". I hated that song. But I'd put money on the two of them delivering a better batch of songs for Justin than what Timbaland and The Neptunes ended up giving him.

RATING: 3 / 10

■ Midnight summer jam
■ Higher higher
■ Wave
■ Breeze off a pond ★ J's fave