Justin Timberlake Releases “Man of the Woods” to Tepid Critical Response

Justin Timberlake released his new album Man of the Woods on Friday, and critics spent the weekend weighing in. Overall, response has been lackluster. At press time, the record currently sits at 57 on Metacritic and 52 at Album of the Year.

Significant attention has been drawn to the album’s poor lyricism. “His lyrics are cheesy, or simply empty,” writes the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica. “That’s harmless when the production sparkles, but they glow with a radioactive tint when it’s not.”

“Lyrics are Man of the Woods‘ major weakness,” Annie Zaleski of the A.V. Club agrees. “There are clumsy come-ons, trite platitudes, and even some head-scratching proclamations. It’s the kind of narrative storytelling crafted by someone who’s used to writing fiction, not keeping a confessional diary.”

The Boston Globe’s Terence Cawley is equally unimpressed. “As a pop-R&B hitmaker, he could let his genius producers do the heavy lifting while getting by on showbiz-schooled charm, but the styles he dabbles in here aren’t as forgiving of average songwriting.”

“This mismatch of lyrics and music gives an unfortunate comic air to some of the cheesier tracks on Man of the Woods, from which the whole project struggles to recover,” concludes Neil McCormick of the Telegraph. “When it’s bad, it’s cringe-inducing.”

“His lyrics are strictly first-draft material. On paper, they can be downright embarrassing,” writes Stereogum’s Tom Breihan. “Here, for instance, is Timberlake remembering falling in love: ‘I might as well have been some butter / Melting all over, girl, what?’ Or here’s Timberlake romanticizing the South: ‘All of the locals are happy to get out and meet a new face / We dance in circles, on and on, dosey-do and then we sway.’ Give Timberlake credit: You have to have insane levels of swagger to even attempt to sing lyrics that dumb.”

“Despite the strong, rugged air of the title, much of Justin Timberlake’s fifth album makes it clear he’s probably one of the worst people to possibly be stuck in the woods with,” Oliver Keens of Times Out London states. “Prepare yourself for lyrics that will snap the needle off the cringe-o-meter.”

“Listeners are subjected unholy mashups of twangy guitars and hip-hop beats, like ‘Wave”s unlistenable attempt at a hoedown stomp, made worse by lyrics that show Timberlake’s slipping grasp on sexy talk, like ‘Sauce”s egregiously bad ‘I like your pink, you love my purple,'” USA Today’s Maeve McDermott laments. “‘Flannel,’ a cloyingly sweet love song that goes all-in on its plaid-shirt metaphor, is a few Lonely Island verses away from being a Saturday Night Live digital short circa 2010. And then there’s ‘Livin’ Off the Land,’ with a title that’d make any songwriter with a shred of self-awareness shake his or her head.”

Similarly, Variety’s Chris Willman calls Timberlake “a guy who’s so completely expert at sketch comedy not always having a sense of when his most serious moments also come off like straight-faced skits.”

Another theme among reviews is Timberlake’s unsuccessful attempt at creating the personal, folksy atmosphere he spoke of in pre-release materials. “It’s remarkable how few ideas are contained within this hour-plus Blue Ridge Mountains mood board of an album,” writes Pitchfork’s Jamieson Cox, in a particularly savage review that assigns the album a mere 3.8 out of 10. “Man of the Woods is a misstep large enough to merit relitigating Justin Timberlake’s status as a pop superstar. How much of his career should we chalk up to fortune, privilege, and an essential malleability?”

“Once you dig into Man of the Woods and let its sometimes confusing attempts to marry country, pop, R&B and dance music worm their way into your ear canals, you realize that this is far more a case of ritzy dude ranch ‘glamping’ than a trip to a no-frills cabin in the middle of nowhere,” Jeff Miers of the Buffalo News comments. “It all feels just plain goofy in its worst moments, which are littered throughout the record’s back half like random cattle droppings in a field.”

Man of the Woods contains Timberlake’s least convincing singing … and his lyrics are even worse, with flimsy clichés about country life and no shortage of condescension to those well-meaning simpletons struggling out in the heartland,” the Los Angeles Times’ Mikael Wood writes. “That’s how this Southern misadventure comes across anyway: as a flashy Hollywood depiction full of local color but minus any feeling for the complexity of the place.”

“The further in one gets, the more the songs start to congeal together, loaded up with pop, country, and R&B signifiers until they’re just one indifferent mass,” says Slant Magazine’s Zachary Hoskins. “Man of the Woods is a bland exercise in the monogenre; its rustic forest scene is made of Astroturf and PVC plastic.”

Matt Miller of Esquire questions the authenticity of the album’s accompanying visuals. “Who is this guy? When was the last time Justin Timberlake peed outside? When was the last time he didn’t have internet access? Can he even drive stick? After years of appropriating black culture, why was he suddenly embracing his whiteness at this time in American history?”

“I’m not exactly sure who Justin Timberlake is, and after Man of the Woods, I’m not really sure any of us ever did,” admits Ira Madison III of the Daily Beast. “The album reveals that there’s … nothing there.”

“The former boy-bander has always possessed stage presence and magnetism, but in terms of his music it’s never truly felt like he was in the driver’s seat,” he continues. “That implication comes at you full bore on Man of the Woods, which boasts interesting production along with banal lyrics that offer nothing about him as an artist or person. It’s borderline vapid in its presentation of what an ‘artist’ is, and feels at times as if he’s cosplaying as someone baring his soul — or that his friendship with Chris Stapleton has led him to believe he can give you country music-level pathos.”

Ian Gormely of Exclaim! concludes simply that “Sound and feel are no substitute for soul.”