Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines LP (2013)

Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke Blurred Lines.jpg
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Oh, Robin. But, how you do know how to dance your way into our collective consciousness with earworm songs we can never quite seem to get out of our brain—no matter how often we bash it on that brick wall to try. Whether it was your gold-selling debut single, “When I Get You Alone,” 2005’s “Wanna Love You Girl,” 2006’s million selling #1 “Lost Without U” or more recently with your #1 R&B charter, “Sex Therapy,” and current #1 double-platinum, “Blurred Lines,” you (or rather you and your winning teams of co-writers—Hey, Pharrell!) know how to write an irresistible melody. I’ve got to hand it to you, Robin, you know how to musically capture our attention, if only for a little while. You do so again with the frolicking musical romp that is Blurred Lines. If only you had anything serious, important, or even original to say. If only you hadn’t so clearly started to believe your own hype.

Oh, Robin. But, how you do know how to dance your way into our collective consciousness with earworm songs we can never quite seem to get out of our brain—no matter how often we bash it on that brick wall to try. Whether it was your gold-selling debut single, “When I Get You Alone,” 2005’s “Wanna Love You Girl,” 2006’s million selling #1 “Lost Without U” or more recently with your #1 R&B charter, “Sex Therapy,” and current #1 double-platinum, “Blurred Lines,” you (or rather you and your winning teams of co-writers—Hey, Pharrell!) know how to write an irresistible melody. I’ve got to hand it to you, Robin, you know how to musically capture our attention, if only for a little while. You do so again with the frolicking musical romp that is Blurred Lines. If only you had anything serious, important, or even original to say. If only you hadn’t so clearly started to believe your own hype.

It wasn’t always that way. Maybe it was because your 2003 debut album, A Beautiful World (an enhanced re-release of 2002’s Cherry Blue Skies) lush with California soul and psychedelic allusions that at least had poetic metaphors that suggested something more than the slick Rat Pack baller your brand has evolved into. The album solidly introduced you to the world as a promising talent, but it didn’t do the kind of RIAA numbers your Jesus chic, blue-eyed soul shtick appeared initially destined to capture after so many breathless reviews and radio spins. So, you cut the Brad Pitt World War Z locks, kicked off the sandals, and made your way to a bespoke suit store with the quickness. Remerging cucumber cool with The Evolution of Robin Thicke. Songs like “Dreamland” gave us some hope and trafficked in sensitive bedroom tunes that probably caused a birthing boom just before the financial bubbles all burst (Thanks for the extra expense, Robin!), before it all went wrong. We eventually learned of your ruse, as indicated by the falling skies sales of the utterly forgettable and interchangeable Something Else of 2008 (but for the decidedly alchemy-free “Magic;” does anyone remember this project at all?) and Sex Therapy (2009), which seemed sadly shrink-free right when we needed mental health counseling the most. By then the champagne hangover of the Great Recession had settled in, and we weren’t much in the mood for baby making and grown men cooing for panties in baby talk over a Fender Rhodes. That your label’s marketing team tried to sell you during these dark years as “The New King of Soul” has not gone unnoticed or yet, as this tone suggests, forgiven.

To your credit, you appeared to approach seriousness again with the double-album, Love After War, but a scratch beneath its picturesque surfaces revealed just more lothario hijinks and wooing in tune, usually to someone else’s melody, chord structure and/or ‘70s/80s soul feel. Sometimes you threw caution to the wind and made it all of the above, you Daredevil you. It didn’t go very far—though I actually happened to like the comfy, familiar noises it made—and the critics had begun to catch on that there wasn’t a lot of there there with the son of beloved TV dad, Alan Thicke. Go figure. As singers go, you’ve always been skilled with dependable pitch and Silk soymilk tones (though your overreliance on that one key falsetto is starting to wane a bit). The musically compelling, but content challenged Blurred Lines, only adds to that vocal legacy of lite cream. Its up-tempo revivalist disco and funky R&B also should add to the musical legacies of: Michael Jackson (“Aint’ No Hat For That”), Robbie Williams (“Feel Good”), Janet Jackson (“Give It 2 You”), The Jones Girls and Chic (“Ooo La La”), A Tribe Called Quest (“Top of the World”), and now even Uncle Charlie’s The Gap Band (“Get In My Way”), so borrowed are their styles in this successful defibrillator machine to what was your waning music career (your hilarious stint on BET’s Real Hollywood Husband certainly didn’t hurt; you may want to reconsider that prematurely announced exit from the show). At least you didn’t borrow totally from Marvin Gaye again (the "Got To Give it Up" opening of "Blurred Lines" aside), having drained that well suitably dry. I couldn’t decide if you were channeling Smokey Robinson or D’Angelo on the requisite devotion ballad, the quickly dismissed “4 The Rest of My Life” single, so I gave you that one, along with the futuristic “Take It Easy On Me,” though I’m sure someone better versed in the New Age '80s artists can name names.  

I get it, Blurred Lines is your answer to R. Kelly’s Write Me Back, right? I mean without the expansive range, diversity, and intended cleverness of Kelly’s show-off game. You’re good at mimicry, but you’re no R. Kelly…you may not even be a Jamie Foxx, since we’re speaking of singers without an identity. Besides, R. Kelly is kind of a one-man prodigy (questionable morals aside) and you’re kind of a pretty singer/songwriter whose material has been regressing album by album toward high school poetry since your 30th birthday. At 35, its getting a bit strained, no?

As summer fare goes, the Blurred Lines party express deserves to be bumped until the back-to-school blues settles in. It is pure cotton candy fare high in empty calories but sure to espouse utterly childlike squeals of delight, as sugar rushes are prone to do. The Soul Train line that is Blurred Lines has cross-generational appeal with plenty of infectious melodies and bumping basslines to get your weekend started. When not looking back, the album even has a workout house jam in “Take It Easy On Me” and techno-house keys and production effects on “Feel Good,” the kind that folks who raved in NYC’s The Tunnel in the ‘90s would appreciate (Yay, glow stick necklaces!).

What makes the Rico Suave of Blurred Lines work despite the writing, are the producers who all have A-1 industry credit and bring their retro-disco and crate-digging funk gifts to bear on this fun soul pop machine. As you and they channel their inner Epic, Total Experience, and Solar Records classics on the memory lane quad of “Ain’t No Hat For That,” “Ooo La La,” “Feel Good,” and “Get In My Way,” one cannot help but smile with great nostalgia. Perhaps the more conservative among your listeners may have to overlook the soft date rape gnats buzzing around the “yes means no” implicating lyrics of “Blurred Lines.” They may also have a bitter pill to swallow with the kiddies in the car when all the gratuitous cursing begins to blare from the stereo, begging those pesky naïve questions smack dab in the middle of their Christian family sing-a-longs. Then there is that oh so classy boast you and Kendrick Lamar share about how “I’ve got a big dick” and wanting to “give it you” on the rightly titled “Give It To You.” Are we borrowing from the Madonna playbook here? Those who cannot write, provoke?

In the end, I can only say “Bravo!” for again sidestepping original artistry for pop fame and fabulosity! It just goes to show you, fear of irrelevancy is a helluva drug! Am I right or am I right? In any case, I’m sure our ears will thank you for all the worms (where is that brick?), as I’m sure you’re thanking me for this blurred lines of a deliberately ambiguous review. You know I want it, right? If only I wasn’t such a friggin’ (*bleep*) tease.  Recommended…or is it?

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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