Justin Timberlake may have become too big for his Timberlands on his ambitious but misfiring fourth album
As nominative determinism goes, the idea of Justin Timberlake getting all lost in the woods is a pretty good one. His name alone summons up Sunday supplement feature spreads of manly outdoorsy pursuits and pine needles in your Y-fronts and gosh darn it if the Memphis boy hasn’t decided to embrace his destiny and go au naturel on his fourth album.
These days the boy wonder who escaped his boyband past and retooled himself as the unlikely sex god of the dance floor is not so much pining for the fjords as pining for the pines of his new home in Montana with wife Jessica Biel and young son Silas, whose name, pop fans, means "man of the forest".
Farmer Timberlake wants to "rewild" himself by getting himself back to the garden. The results are as wayward as a midnight flit through Dun a Ri Forest Park after a feed of Buckfast. Man of The Woods is an admirably ambitious attempt to place the dance floor in a bucolic setting with Mother Nature herself manning the decks playing R&B, country and funk.
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It starts off with a mission statement. Amid grinding guitars and hyperventilating synths, the declamatory Filthy is only actually filthy because Mr T avers that "this is not the clean version" but he really tempts fate with the rather smug line "haters gonna say it’s fake" - when you make an album that borders on the kind of grandiloquent delusion of a prog rock triple album about sea urchins the haters may have a point.
The first sign that this is all a forest of folly arrives early when Biel pops up to do some meaningful heavy breathing on Midnight Summer Jam, an enjoyable enough future funk party track about dancing under the stars but Timberlake's clear love of Prince-like sleaze doesn't work on Sauce, a southern rock grind which features the LOL (for all the wrong reasons) line "I love your pink, you like my purple."
However, he's certainly having fun on the title track, a tongue in cheek frontier romp with a video that makes Monty Python's I'm a Lumberjack look like The Revenant.
The results are as wayward as a midnight flit through Dun a Ri Forest Park after a feed of Buckfast
Echoes of seventies Stevie Wonder can be heard on the smooth modern soul of Higher Higher and sadly Supplies is not a song about running out of Krug and caviar in a snowbound Montana log cabin but a trip to the ranch of raunch that is so awful that it's actually quite good. The same can't be said of Wave in which Justin sings "I'll catch a couple of fish and we can dine." Now, why didn't Barry White think of that?
Morning Light, a duet with Alicia Keyes, has all the drowsy seduction of a Norah Jones’ song and is rather good; the courtly folk of Flannel has far too much, well, embarrassing flannel; and the unapologetic yacht rock Breeze Off the Pond is one of the best things here.
He's certainly having fun on the title track, a tongue in cheek frontier romp with a video that makes Monty Python's I'm a Lumberjack look like The Revenant.
Biel crops up now and then to do her sexy forest wraith nonsense but the cringe-making self-indulgence really hits rock bottom on closing track Young Man, in which Justin sings to Silas - no doubt a chip off the old block (look, he started it, right?) - about the rules of life and what he can expect as the offspring of a multi-award winning, millionaire pop star father.
The all-embracing genre hopping is admirable but Man of The Woods is more pine needles in your smalls than life-affirming mountain ramble. Always slightly naff but very likeable, this time out Timberlake has become too big for his Timberlands.