Justin Timberlake’s comeback isn’t going especially well, is it? It wasn’t so long ago the fedora-sporting pop snake couldn’t put a foot wrong, his every move seeming to spawn another chart hit or a water cooler talking point, but as he’s fast realising, the times are a-changing. His latest two singles haven’t so much taken the sheen off Timberlake’s cool guy image as smashed it to pieces, his brand now a jumbled mess of Bon Iver’s old jumpers and mid-noughties gimmicks. What Timberlake needs now is a hit, something to redeem his reputation, an era-defining statement to restore him to his pop throne.
The third release from Timberlake’s upcoming album Man Of The Woods, ‘Say Something’ is a collaboration with US country artist Chris Stapleton. Is this the song that’s going to make JT cool again? Let’s have a look, shall we.
To its credit, ‘Say Something’ at least adds some clarity to Timberlake’s baffling promo campaign. First was the album art that showed Timberlake looking pensive by some trees, then came the trailer that promised the record would sound like “Wild West…but now”, and then came two singles released in quick succession, both heavy-handed, annoying duds that bore no relevance to the country dad image Timberlake had been trying so hilariously hard to cultivate. But now, three singles in, we get something that kind of makes sense.
But though ‘Say Something’ makes sense, this can’t distract from the fact it isn’t very good. You could snooze right through it, completely unaware it was playing. This is waiting room music, shop music, music you hear when you get a root canal. In short, there’s just very little to it, nothing to sink your teeth into, barely anything even to criticise. It flies by without you realising, and any attempts to actually listen to it are thwarted by thoughts of literally anything else, so little does the track command your attention.
Another unfortunate fact is that this is barely a Justin Timberlake song, Chris Stapleton elbowing his way to the forefront and setting up camp. Timberlake fades into the background, his usually clipped, near-robotic vocals reduced to an anonymous acoustic hum. In his attempt to adopt an earthy, country sound, he strips himself of any personality, allowing Stapleton to take the lead. Rather than bolster Timberlake’s country credentials, Stapleton’s presence only serves to highlight his shortcomings.
If ‘Say Something’ was intended as Timberlake’s first proper foray into country music, solidifying the homespun image he’s so keen to deliver, it isn’t very convincing. The ingredients are all here – acoustic guitars, poor-me lyrics and even a bona fide country star, but nothing really works. What we end up with is boring filler, an insipid bit of background noise and the third bad single from Timberlake’s new album. What’s the rule about three strikes, again?