Despite the strong, rugged air of the title, much of Justin Timberlake's fifth album – which drops this Friday – makes it clear he's probably one of the worst people to possibly be stuck in the woods with.
Imagine spending days in a cabin with a 36-year old dad, singing in an increasingly ironic falsetto, making everything pointlessly sexual, metaphorically humping your leg with incessant innuendos, whilst still thinking he's a really cool, right-on kinda guy.
If you think this sounds exaggerated, believe me: Timberlake could power a steamboat with his own sexual huff-and-puff. Prepare yourself for lyrics that will snap the needle off the cringe-o-meter.
Single 'Filthy' kicks off the album, blessed with the gag-inducing line 'What you gonna do with all that meat?' – a question only Gregg Wallace has the acceptable right to ask in public.
Up next comes, ahem, 'Sauce'. 'I love your pink, you love my purple' states Justin, in what we hope is just a ghastly innuendo. If not, mate: see a doctor.
And so it goes on, to the point where it becomes impossible to tell where the banter ends and any seriousness starts. Does the line 'I got supplies' mean he's got a big wang (on the otherwise straight-ish 'Supplies'). When he sings 'It's as solid as oak' on 'Breeze', is he talking about his relationship or his penis? Such vagueness doesn't help dispel the general whiff of 'Blurred Lines' about Timberlake in 2018 – and that's before you get to the chauvinist patter of the title track, or his annoying tick of referring to women as 'girl', 'baby' or 'sugarplum'.
The cherry on the cringe cake has to be album-closer 'Young Man', a song that was probably meant as a tender father-to-son ballad (for his two-year-old, with wife Jessica Biel). It instead raises more moral complications than a synod meeting of the Catholic church. Chirpily telling a child 'If you need a cry, you got my permission' is all kinds of wrong, as is telling a future man 'Someday you're gonna break somebody's heart, that's what we do'. For good measure, he also asks the child to contemplate how hot his mum is, and then gives advice on how to get with hotties of equal hotness.
It's not a total dud. There are good moments. Opener 'Midnight Summer Jam' is just perfect, for example. A balmy disco suite that sounds sounds like MJ getting sweaty in a lumberjack shirt. Also check out 'Montana' for its simple, untainted laidback groove – a gleeful reminder of Timberlake at his peak.
But the album's lofty aim – of musically uniting town and country – is its own worse enemy. Making tracks that blend booty bass and rave synths with acoustic strumming and Nashville guitars is not a good look. 'Sauce' sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival playing an Atlanta strip bar, but in a very bad way. 'Waves' attempts to fuse hoedown rhythms and trap beats, again, badly. In the process, album producers Pharrell and Chad from The Neptunes kinda invent an American version of electro-swing. Listen to walking 303 baseline on 'Livin' off the Land' and you'll see exactly what I mean.
Timberlake has been touting 'Man of the Woods' as a very personal album. If that's the case, beyond being a little bit flirty and a little bit dirty, we're not entirely sure if there's much else going on down there, among the trees...
'Man of the Woods' is released on Feb 2.Share the story