Review Summary: “I thought everyone was gonna eat the chips/Turns out I’m the only one who double dipped”
Breakups are difficult, there’s no other way around it. After feeling like you’ve found the one who completes you, the one that makes you feel like the two of you are pieces of a whole, you are suddenly forced to contemplate what life is like alone, with your entire sense of balance and stability shattered. There is no perfect way to deal with this crisis of confidence, but there is no doubt that some handle it better than others. Post-breakup mourners can range from the good, to the bad, to the truly desperate… and then there’s Robin Thicke. The veteran soul man spent years cultivating a devoted following in the modern American R&B landscape, starting as a songwriter at the age of sixteen and developing a successful career co-writing and producing tracks for artists such as Usher, Christina Aguilera and P!nk, before transitioning to his own singing career with his underrated 2003 debut, A Beautiful World
His breakthrough came with the follow-up, The Evolution of Robin Thicke
, which honed his soulful throwback sound and made him the first white male artist to top the R&B singles chart since George Michael in 1988. Three further albums expanded his musical palette and cemented his status as a modern R&B hit maker. However, R&B’s popularity as a mainstream genre has waned in recent years, and as Thicke increasingly became a niche artist, he decided to change course completely. Of course, we all know what happened next… “Blurred Lines” topped the charts in more than a dozen countries and made Thicke a superstar, if only for a moment. However, the resulting publicity inflated Thicke's already overstuffed ego, and incessant rumors of his infidelity led his partner of two decades, actress Paula Patton, to leave him in February.
Now, moving on from a twenty-year relationship cannot be easy, and one could imagine that Thicke would be going through the stages of grief. However, on his new album, unironically titled Paula
, he seems to have gotten stuck somewhere around the first step: denial. The entire album is one giant love letter to his estranged wife, which in itself is a doubtful endeavor. Thicke admits as much in the opening track, singing that he understands “right now you need some space and time”. This is followed by nearly an hour’s worth of pleading and detailed examinations of their relationship, all in the form of an album released to the public. As dubious as this concept is, it just might
have worked if Thicke had put out the best album of his career, a modern-day equivalent of his idol Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear
… unfortunately, this is not that album. Rather than spending month after painstaking month crafting his masterpiece as Gaye did, Thicke opted to write an entire album in three weeks, and record it in the following month. As such, Paula
not only feels like the product of rushed recording sessions, but feels like it was created by a man who was in a hurry to turn his initial ideas into recordings, with little regard as to whether anyone would want to listen.
This “anything goes” mentality seems instantly apparent on opener “You’re My Fantasy”, a generic bossa nova inspired slow jam that sets the tone for the album on a decidedly creepy note. With a hopelessly uninspired, repetitive chorus of “Touch me you're my fantasy/My body is yours/My heart is yours”, the track feels more like an ode to a present lover than a bid to get a partner back, sharing intimate details of their sexual escapades to the point of making the listener feel uncomfortable. This trend continues on most of the album’s excessive 51-minute runtime, as songs such as “Get Her Back” and “Whatever I Want” focus on Thicke’s personal issues at the expense of his wife’s perspective. Some introspection by the clearly flawed Thicke would be welcome if the lyrics were anything other than empty platitudes:
“I never should have raised my voice or made you feel so small
I never should have asked you to do anything at all
I should have kissed you longer
I should have held you stronger”
- "Get Her Back"
Elsewhere, the lyrics venture into pure cheese, and one wonders what Thicke could have possibly have been thinking. This shows in moments of lyrical brilliance like the tagline quote, and this gem from “Lock the Door”:
“Don’t leave me out here in the cold
Ooh turn the porch light on
At least open the doggy-door
Throw a friend a juicy bone”
Besides the many questionable songwriting choices, such as the composition for “Something Bad”, a song about infidelity set to happy-go-lucky show-tune music, there are three songs on Paula
that have absolutely nothing to do with the theme of what is ostensibly a “concept album”. Thicke truly shoves the concept album slant in the listener’s face, as the CD package prominently features the words “Story by Robin Thicke” in the sleeve. Which is why it is so jarring to hear songs like “Living in New York City”, an upbeat song about - what else? - the joys of the Big Apple that would seem perfect for a tourism ad. Elsewhere, “Time of Your Life” is a typical big band number that is little more than empty flash, and the less said about “Tippy Toes” the better. Even the piano-tinged ballads reek of excess, and sound like exaggerated, showy Broadway soundtrack tunes rather than the poignant diaries of heartache Thicke seems to have been going for. The album’s few strong musical moments don’t come close to touching the best of his back catalog, such as his 2011 album Love After War
, and even those moments are brought down by poor lyrics. Thicke manages to sound groveling and desperate while simultaneously making the listener feel like he rarely means anything he says, which is actually quite an amazing accomplishment, or would be if Thicke were in a competition to create one of the most unappealing albums in recent memory. Paula
is unlikely to make anyone feel sympathy for it’s much maligned creator, and is almost certain to put an end to his brief run of mainstream success, as there is little here to appeal to the casual pop listener, and even fans of his earlier work are likely to be put off by the lack of musical variety and some of the worst lyrics Thicke has ever penned. If I were Paula, I would stay far, far away.