Album Review: Robin Thicke – ‘Paula’
Robin Thicke’s album Paula is a quantum leap for him creatively. However, the entire opus is hobbled by the problems in his personal life and the manner in which they have trickled into his creative life.
I used to be a huge Robin Thicke fan. His first album A Beautiful World was the epitome of cool and vulnerable. His second album The Evolution of Robin Thicke proved a white soul singer other than Justin Timberlake could be taken seriously.
But somewhere along the way, with all of the fame and association with Pharrell, he lost the magic. He wasn’t that man with long hair riding through San Francisco streets on a bicycle. He stopped experimenting and singing about his personal demons. All of a sudden, he was somebody. And once you are somebody in the entertainment industry, the first things to go are usually the characteristics that make you unique.
I can only imagine that this was true inside his relationship with Paula Patton too. Why else the sudden separation? Remember that this woman has seen him through drug addiction and years of trying to make a dream come true, even as his attempts faltered. Now that he is at the top, you’d think she would be able to enjoy it with him (unless there is a lot more going on under the surface).
But that’s none of my business.
To his credit, Thicke’s new album Paula sounds more like his original work than any of his recent efforts. It has a lot of classic horns, that gutteral growl, and immensely raw vocals. Maybe he’s been crying a lot and his throat is just really scratchy, but this is the Robin Thicke I used to love. He has opened up his life for dissection in a way he’s never done before, no matter how detrimental or cringe-inducing it may be.
The first track “You’re My Fantasy” has that latin flavor that was ever-present on his first two albums. His voice is really suited for this seductive type of music where a soft tone and breathy delivery goes hand in hand with a guitar and conga drums. This is a promising beginning to the album; it’s begging is clearly pointed at his estranged wife, but it doesn’t come off as overwrought.
Then the next two tracks, “Get Her Back” and “Still Madly Crazy”, remind you that this album is his brilliant plan to win back his wife. They are literally pleas to Paula Patton to come back to him. They just sound pathetic. It’s no coincidence that these songs have both received video treatment.
Don’t let the cute kids fool you. This is another textbook case of oversharing.
There is also a litany of nearly ununderstandable songs with titles like “Black Tar Cloud”, “Too Little Too Late”, and “Tippy Toes”. These songs literally make no sense, and in light of the heavier subject matter on the album, they seems like the musings of a man gone insane.
In spite of his stalkerish ways, Thicke is due some accolades for this album. The clear standout of the album “Forever Love” is a simple piano ballad that reaches into his pit of emotions and broadcasts a simple message of undying love. Elsewhere, he takes a lot of risks sonically, certain songs (we’re talking about you “Lock The Door”) are impeccably written, and I’d venture to say that this is the best he has sounded since The Evolution of Robin Thicke. His trio of background singers (Kimberly Johnson-Breaux, Alex Isley, and Angie Fisher) sound like a girl group straight out of the 60’s.
And maybe he ran with that a bit too much. He channels (i.e. does his best impersonation) of James Brown on “Living In New York City” and he tries on Frank Sinatra for size on “Time of Your Life”. He even does a mean Ray Charles on “Love Can Grow Back”. I’ve noted that Thicke has an issue with impersonation before, and no matter how creative he may be, he can’t resist trying to emulate the greats.
So can I recommend the album? That’s a tricky question to answer. If you take the album out of its context, it is a stunning piece of art. No mainstream artist is making music like this, and there is no doubting Thicke’s musical prowess. However, there really is no taking his music out of context. In the back of your mind, the Thicke-Patton relationship will always be juxtaposed with each of the tracks. Transparency in art is usually a positive and powerful thing. The problem with its application here is that he isn’t examining just his own life and choices. His personal expression inevitably includes another person who has already expressed that they don’t want that type of attention.
And so despite its many many merits, Paula comes off as just feeling like a violation.
Stream the album below and give your thoughts in the comments section!
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