Robin Thicke - Paula Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.01.2014
Robin Thicke follows up on his breakout hit LP Blurred Lines by taking his reconciliation attempts with his wife public on Paula! But is it anything more than a desperation move? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "You're My Fantasy" (5:57)
2. "Get Her Back" (3:33)
3. "Still Madly Crazy" (2:55)
4. "Lock the Door" (4:21)
5. "Whatever I Want" (3:45)
6. "Living in New York City" (3:26)
7. "Love Can Grow Back" (3:27)
8. "Black Tar Cloud" (3:25)
9. "Too Little Too Late" (2:54)
10. "Tippy Toes" (3:07)
11. "Something Bad" (3:41)
12. "The Opposite of Me" (3:00)
13. "Time of Your Life" (2:57)
14. "Forever Love" (5:01)
Robin Thicke had one hell of a 2013. The Canadian R&B star, who was previously best known in the US as an up-and-coming guy who appeared on the sole season of ABC's short-lived summer singing competition Duets, finally broke out onto an international platform with Blurred Lines. Of course, there were good and bad aspects of this; while it brought him huge levels of fame, it happened at the cost of his unique R&B sound for a more homogenized--and frankly, lesser--pop feel. It also brought on controversy about the perceived date rapey-quality of the title track, to the point that it was banned on several campuses in different countries. And perhaps most significantly, the fame seems to have been the cause for his wife, actress Paula Patton, to separate from him amid accusations that he was becoming rather promiscuous behind his back. Nothing like fame to break up a marriage, sadly.
Of all of those downsides to his big breakthrough, it's the latter which seems to have affected Thicke the most. After all, why else would he turn his next LP into a forty-two minute long public bid to lure her back. On Thicke's new album, not-so-subtly titled Paula, he's all about debasing himself and admitting to his flaws. This is basically a concept album with one singular goal, exemplified in the first single's title: "Get Her Back." It's a bold move, to be sure. And to be perfectly fair to Thicke, it's a solid starter for the album, at least if you ignore the bizarre music video. The stripped-down R&B sounds are a move back into smoother Thicke fare than the poppy and emotionally sterile sounds of Blurred Lines, with a minimalist backing sound and Thicke's voice taking center stage. His vocal work has always been his strongest point and he shines in this track.
Unfortunately, it's mostly downhill from there. While Thicke is a fantastic singer, his lyric-writing skills leave a lot to be desired and that is part of why Paula falls so flat. The opening track "You're My Fantasy" cuts the legs out from under the Latin-influenced sounds with confusingly nonsensical lyrics, or ones where he tries to butter Patton up by saying "I don't know how you do it, working the way you are" and goes for contrition in what feels like a blatant sympathy ploy. As sexy as it sounds, it's hard not to imagine that this is a calculated effort, which seriously undercuts the sincerity.
And that's the problem with the whole of the album: the whole thing rings false. Is Thicke sincere about this as an effort to woo his wife back? Because if he is, it's distressingly obtuse; no man in his right mind would expect a woman to be honored by taking their dirty laundry as publicly as you can possibly get. This is Thicke doing a reverse Taylor Swift; where Swift likes to write songs kissing off her former exes, at least she does it with a sense of triumph. Thicke is easy to imagine on bended knee here, belting out the entire LP to his wife and that's just embarrassing...not only to Thicke but to Patton. Paula isn't likely to win him any points with her, that's for sure.
But let's try to be fair here; while Thicke has opened himself up by taking his relationship as overtly into his music as you can do, Paula should succeed or fail on the merits of the music itself. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to like there either. Musically it certainly sounds better than his last album but that's a low bar to achieve. With this one he inundates us with slow jams of apology as befits the concept, and that's fine but it also means the album gets very dull very quickly. "Get Her Back" is fun, but it's one song. A full album grows tiring. "Lock the Door" is a solid enough number, with its backing gospel choir and soulful elements, but it's bookended by the saccharine "Still Madly Crazy" and "Whatever I Want," which tries to replicate the "Blurred Lines" feel without success. "Living In New York City" has an James Brown vibe that is so overt it may as well be stylistic theft and it hits a certain groove, but then you get the tired throwback "Love Can Grow Back" and the confessional "Black Tar Cloud," where Thicke seems to actually be angry with his muse for kicking him out.
This album should play moderately well on the charts. Thicke handled production solo on the album and he's clearly learned a lot about how to get an album to sell, but album sales will be based more off of morbid curiosity about his public apology than the music itself. And perhaps that's the worst part about Paula; as much as it seems like a confessional and plea for reconciliation, it also seems calculated. You can't have it both ways, and it just doesn't fly here.
Standout Tracks: "Get Her Back," "Lock the Door," "Living in New York City"
Skippable: "Still Madly Crazy," "Love Can Grow Back," "Whatever I Want," "Something Bad"
The 411: The proper word for Robin Thicke's latest LP Paula is "uncomfortable." His public plea to his wife is so in-your-face that it's impossible to enjoy the music without thinking of what Thicke did to cause the rift; it's an album that is impossible to separate from the artist's antics. This would be the equivalent of Chris Brown writing an entire album apologizing to Rihanna for their domestic incident, with only a little less creepiness involved. Musically it's flat and undercooked and conceptually it's incredibly ill-advised. Whether Paula achieves Robin Thicke's obvious aspirations for it or not, it's unlikely to find as many fans among music listeners.