- Star Trak
By Adam Depollo, Online Arts Editor
Published July 2, 2014
Robin Thicke is most readily recognizable as the guy with the Beetlejuice suit who Miley Cyrus twerked on at the 2013 VMA’s, but that singular episode doesn’t do justice to what has been a long and successful career in pop and R&B. In 1991, a demo tape featuring a 14-year-old Thicke made its way to R&B legend Brian McKnight, who was so impressed with the young singer’s talent that he brought him into the studio to co-write the song “Anyway,” which would appear on McKnight’s second album. Thicke began his music career in earnest at the age of 17, working primarily as a songwriter and producer. His work appeared on albums by Brandy, Christina Aguilera and Mýa, among others, and he co-wrote “Fall Again,” a track that was slated to appear on Michael Jackson’s album Invincible, but didn’t make the final cut. His work as a solo artist, starting with 2003’s A Beautiful World and leading up to 2013’s wildly successful Blurred Lines, includes a slew of top-ten albums and singles which made Thicke a mainstay of mid-2000’s R&B radio and earned him the distinction of being the most successful white R&B artist since George Michael.
Commercial achievements aside, however, Thicke has never succeeded in putting together a highly influential or innovative project. His commercial success has always been driven by one or two successful singles per album (can you name more than one track off of Blurred Lines?), and closer inspection of the remainder of his material won’t reveal any particularly interesting deep cuts. While one can’t deny that Thicke is a strong singer with a solid falsetto and playful delivery, his vocal talents rarely make up for forgettable songwriting that wavers between saccharine romantic clichés and monotonous sexual clichés.
Which leads us to Thicke’s latest album, Paula, dedicated to his estranged wife, actress Paula Patton. Per his modus operandi, Thicke prefaced the release of this album with the single “Get Her Back,” featuring a nice, mellow guitar track and tolerable lyrics riffing on his failings as a lover and his desire to, as the title suggests, “get her back.” While it has none of the earworm quality of “Blurred Lines,” Thicke’s plaintive voice mixed with the song’s toned-down instrumentation makes this a decent, albeit not particularly exciting track.
After “Get Her Back” and the Supernatural era Santana-esque opening track “You’re My Fantasy,” however, this album completely falls off the rails. Starting with the schmaltzy waltz “Still Madly Crazy,” Thicke goes on a 13-track journey through the various iterations of 20th century R&B music in the most derivative, sugarcoated and unimaginative way possible. He does a lifeless James Brown impression on “Living in New York City,” rehashes the more ridiculous aspects of ‘80s funk on “Something Bad” and decided to include not one, but two sock-hop numbers — the equally obnoxious “Tippy Toes” and “Time of Your Life.”
While the stale backing tracks on Paula are bad, they’re nothing compared with Thicke’s phoned-in lyrics which, when not recycling B-grade romcom sentimentality, just don’t make any damn sense. “Living in New York” is a particularly egregious example. Between obscure references to “New York soldiers,” he repeatedly exhorts us “America / It’s time to wake up!” because … he’s living in New York. What are we waking up from? Why does his change of residence require us to do so? Why did he make this song? All good questions.
Ostensibly, this album was made to mend Thicke’s broken relationship with Paula Patton, but unless she culls her musical taste from the “Grease” soundtrack and Celine Dion’s discography, I simply can’t tell what Thicke was going for with this release. Fans of Blurred Lines will be just as disappointed with Paula as fans of Thicke’s older material — after listening to this release it’s hard to say that the singer’s recent success hasn’t been a fluke.