Robin Thicke - Love After War

Robin Thicke
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Writing songs since his teenage years, earning a record deal at 16 and flexing that skill with multiple performers (Mya, Brandy, Marc Anthony, Christina Aguilera) sharpened Robin Thicke's instincts as a vocalist, musician and producer. Camera-ready good looks and well-connected lineage aside (both parents being entertainers), his affinity for smoothly-crafted urbanized pop was undeniable, and although 2003's Beautiful World put Mr. Thicke on the map, it was 2006's The Evolution of Robin Thicke, featuring the inescapable "Lost Without U," that solidified his rep as a genuine blue-eyed soul man. He probably wouldn't be faulted for sticking solely to the classically-composed R&B stylings that earned such acclaim, but luckily, Love After War is as plush as those former releases and almost as adventurous as Sex Therapy, minus the 50-11 guest appearances and single-minded focus on 'gettin' it on.'

Writing songs since his teenage years, earning a record deal at 16 and flexing that skill with multiple performers (Mya, Brandy, Marc Anthony, Christina Aguilera) sharpened Robin Thicke's instincts as a vocalist, musician and producer. Camera-ready good looks and well-connected lineage aside (both parents being entertainers), his affinity for smoothly-crafted urbanized pop was undeniable, and although 2003's Beautiful World put Mr. Thicke on the map, it was 2006's The Evolution of Robin Thicke, featuring the inescapable "Lost Without U," that solidified his rep as a genuine blue-eyed soul man. He probably wouldn't be faulted for sticking solely to the classically-composed R&B stylings that earned such acclaim, but luckily, Love After War is as plush as those former releases and almost as adventurous as Sex Therapy, minus the 50-11 guest appearances and single-minded focus on 'gettin' it on.'

First-time fatherhood with the Mrs., Paula Patton, must've uncorked a wellspring of creativity in Mr. Thicke, because Love.... is a sprawling and ambitious set; in fact, the 17 tracks veer so unexpectedly from one mode to the next that the pacing borders on schizophrenic. Sometimes he's brash and bombastic, launching into glittery, high-energy jams like "Angel On Each Arm" and the self-possessed "I'm An Animal," where the attempt to warn a woman that he's no damn good is undermined by its hammy execution: "I've got a chemical (testosterone?) that makes me go numb, I don't know what to do with my opposable thumbs/ I got a mean temper bangin' like an Indian drum, and if you press one of my buttons I'm gon' do somethin' dumb." "Never Give Up" is an intriguing listen, grafting Jose Pablo Moncayo's lively Mexican-flavored composition, "Huapango," over a throbbing, syncopated beat: "Lost your heart, lost your will, on your knees, just for a dollar bill/Lost your faith, and your confidence, nothing seems fair, nothing makes sense....it's not over, hold on Baby, it's never too much."

Another highlight that's practically tailor-made for the Occupy Movement, "The New Generation," demonstrates the veracity Mr. Thicke possesses as a singer and lyricist. Replete with sample-mimicking reverb over b-boy rhythms, what could've been stiff and preachy is  downright galvanizing. Listeners will tempted to pump their fists and march in place as they absorb Robin's assessment of today's politically-charged atmosphere: "We want our freedom, like the Statue of Liberty/we want to see our children, live better than you and me....things are really changin', from Africa to Asia, to Europe and across the seas/everybody's got their head up, and nobody's on their knees."  

But as the supple first single and title track demonstrates, Mr. Thicke isn't trying to abandon that well-earned Loverman persona. "Pretty Lil' Heart," with its Lil Wayne intro, cooing assurances and tangy Erykah Badu-recalling chorus----"Baby, you got me, don't worry your pretty lil' heart"----is another instant smash, and that fluttery falsetto is poured sweetly throughout the naughty bedroom games vividly described in "All Tied Up" and "Tears On My Tuxedo," where drama-queen angst that used to draw sympathy is now paper-thin: "Crazy in the morning, afraid of the night, story's always changing, something ain't right/don't know if it's real or fake, I can't trust the bait, of your tears of my tuxedo." The CD's most understated performance belongs to "Dangerous," which uncoils like a beautiful, yet venomous snake entrancing its prey with hypnotic movements before rendering a fatal strike: "You're idealistic, so filled with glee, you see me as your shining prince, but I'm a treacherous king/You'l accept my olive branch, but I'm poison iiiiiiiiivy."

With its sheer enormity of material, Love.... can't escape becoming languid and overly-mawkish from time-to-time: for every strong selection ("Stupid Things," "What Would I Be?"), there's one that goes too far and becomes too much ("I Don't Know How It Feels to Be U" sounds like a sympathetic pregnancy ode for Paula, and "Boring" name-checks so many people and places that it comes across like a stilted ad). But that doesn't prevent Mr. Thicke's formidable fifth CD from being classified as essential listening for today, 2012 and beyond. Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

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