Amongst mostly hairless Pharrell-funky beats, Man Of The Woods is R’n’B threaded with twangy guitar, harmonica and sliding fiddle, with plenty of the sudden little decorative vocal stabs Timberlake likes to stud around the joint, and some tranquil, well-placed spoken-word bits. Stand-out Sauce does illustrate how well his rhythmic harmonies lend themselves to the circular patterns of blues chord sequences, while The Hard Stuff shows his ballad smarts have kept.
It falls down where he deviates from the theme too far into forcing the genre mash-ups, or conflating ‘the American South’ with ‘landscapes in general’; Wave’s island vibe – with reggae ukulele, a canned beat and country-esque walking bass – is a bit too weird to work (although I’m not surprised Pharrell looked so excited in that behind-the-scenes clip – there aren’t many cross-poll avenues that haven’t had their crannies explored by R’n’B), and the bongos and panpipes that pop up here and there seem like a shortcut to denoting “nature”.
The best tracks are the ones that keep the artificial elements subtle, like the excellent Chris Stapleton collab single Say Something, and gorgeous closer Young Man (featuring a cameo from Timberlake and Jessica Biel’s son). And, funnily enough, an interlude titled Hers, in which Biel explains what it’s like to wear her husband’s shirt. Sounds dumb, but her words expand into a pretty cute and astute allegory. Timberlake’s family do more to convince me of his realness than all the banjos you can poke a twig at.
Man Of The Woods is out now via Sony.
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