A directionless and at times unfinished return...
'Man Of The Woods'

“Y’all can’t do better than this,” proclaims the opening line from ‘Midnight Summer Jam’, the second track on Justin Timberlake’s fourth album, ‘Man Of The Woods’. While many would argue that such a statement is just typical pop music posturing, the fact is that it’s something else entirely. It’s got to be.

In the five years since ‘The 20/20 Experience’, JT has developed a delicious sense of irony. What else could it be? No-one drops a lyric like that, and then follows it with an album like this. Do they? Apparently, they do. Where did it all go wrong Justin? Who knew the futuresex/lovesounds would evolve in to presentwank/autotune?

It’s a shame, as ‘Man Of The Woods’ has some genuinely interesting moments. ‘Morning Light’ with Alicia Keys for instance, is a woozy, airy affair, while the made-for-radio ‘Say Something’ with Chris Stapleton is arguably the record’s standout track. It speaks volumes however, that the album's two strongest moments are those that feature other artists.

You’ve got to admire Timberlake’s decision to quite literally just do whatever he wants, and it’s clearly liberating for him to have that sort of creative freedom. It’s unfortunate then, that said creative freedom feels more like a lack of direction, and is ultimately what hampers ‘Man of the Woods’ the most.

Veering from pop, R&B, country and Americana with gleeful abandon, it all feels more than a little erratic, and with no given aesthetic ever really standing out from the next, much of the record struggles to feel memorable. The brooding bass of ‘Montana’ coming towards the end however, is a late exception; its Fleetwood Mac influence a welcome gesture.

Unfortunately, it’s too little too late. For all its best intentions, ‘Man of the Woods’ often feels rushed, occasionally underproduced and at times, unfinished. Lacking the effortless polish of previous releases, it troughs more than peaks and ends up floundering in its own ambition.

4/10

Words: Dave Beech

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