Albums Of The Week

Justin Timberlake loses way in Man Of The Woods

Pop star Justin Timberlake goes a little bit country in his new album Man Of The Woods.
Pop star Justin Timberlake goes a little bit country in his new album Man Of The Woods.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Justin Timberlake might have bitten off a little more than he can chew, melding R&B and futuristic pop with rootsy Americana

POP/R&B

MAN OF THE WOODS

Justin Timberlake

RCA

3 stars

With Man Of The Woods, his fifth album, pop wunderkind Justin Timberlake set the bar for himself really high.

He is certainly known for ambitiously pushing the boundaries of mainstream music. But trying to meld sensual R&B and futuristic pop with rootsy, heartfelt Americana comes across as biting off a little more than he can chew.

Man Of The Woods, named after his two-year-old son with actress Jessica Biel (the boy's name Silas means "of the forest" in Latin), is a heady trip from start to finish, but not always in a good way.

It starts out promisingly enough. Opening track Filthy, which features long-time collaborators Timbaland and Danja, has celebratory instrumental breaks.

While the hook is a little weak and his proclamation of "All my haters gonna say it's fake" sounds a little self-conscious, it is propelled by a futuristic, robotic beat.

Midnight Summer Jam, with production by pop/hip-hop trailblazers The Neptunes, is a rocking jam, with Timberlake's signature vocals coming to the fore, held aloft by an insistent, urgent beat.

Things start going awry when Sauce rolls along, the first of many gimmicky-sounding tracks on the album. Marked by a corny, twangy guitar riff, it is one head-scratching, bizarre track.

Pop star Justin Timberlake goes a little bit country in his new album Man Of The Woods.

Wave is another weirdo, with a ska-beat wedged in and a guitar riff that sounds out of place.

The title track aims for minimalist country, albeit with wobbly, electronic bass and percussions, but is let down by cringe-inducing lyrics about how he is sexually irresistible to his wife.

In fact, many of his words seem, at best, uninspired, and, at worst, embarrassing.

Take Supplies is a downbeat, pseudo-country jam with folksy elements.

The man once vaunted for bringing a new-found sensuality to pop is calling it in with the lines: "I'll be the wood when you need heat/ I'll be the generator/Turn me on when you need electricity".

He wants you to know that he is reconnecting with his rustic, Tennessee roots - hence, he gets all sentimental about his clothes in Flannel - yet his lyrics are often too on-the-nose (for instance, Breeze Off The Pond's "Like breeze off the pond/Or trees on the lawn/Wind is always there").

There are gems, thankfully. Livin' Off The Land shines with its gospel vibes, layered vocals and minimal but urgent beat, while The Hard Stuff stands out with its fetching melodies.

Sadly, for an album that stretches over an hour long, these are few and far between.

Whether he wants to stay on the bleeding edge of pop or endear himself with tunes that are folksy, warm and heartfelt, the former member of boy band NSYNC cannot seem to decide.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2018, with the headline 'Lost in the woods'. Print Edition | Subscribe