Album Review: Blurred Lines, by Robin Thicke
Blurred Lines is Robin Thickeās sixth solo album, and fifth with Star Trak Records, the label founded by hitmaking producer Pharrell Williams. Curiously, the title track, which has been topping charts and ruling radio all summer, is only the second actual collaboration between Thicke and Williams. Indeed, for most of his career, Thicke has been Star Trekās most successful act simply by being left to his own devices, writing and producing most of his music himself with longtime co-producer Pro J, and building a moderately large fanbase with his smoothly tradionalist and slightly arch approach to soul music. Given the runaway success of āBlurred Lines,ā however, Thicke and Williams may want to work together more often.
Robin Thicke has long occupied a unique niche in popular music, as a white R&B singer who, unlike Justin Timberlake, was played almost exclusively on black radio. In 2010, his single āSex Therapyā topped the R&B charts, but got no higher than #54 on the pop charts. At a time when urban radio and pop radio have fewer in songs in common than they have in decades, āBlurred Linesā is the rare song that unites them, largely by virtue of an infectious homage to Marvin Gayeās āGot To Give It Up,ā and an eye-catching, controversial video.
While Blurred Lines arrives predestined as the album that will introduce Robin Thicke to a bigger, wider audience than heās ever had before, thereās something of a question of whether it will be good. After all, Sex Therapy, his only previous album that was stocked with a large number of outside producers and guest rappers, was easily his worst. But there are only a couple times on Blurred Lines when he strays too far outside his comfort zone ā āTake It Easy On Meā is a clunky, monotonous Timbaland banger, and the next single āGive It 2 Uā uses dubstep-influenced Dr. Luke production to aim squarely at the kind of the pop radio ubiquity that āBlurred Linesā stumbled backwards into. But even that song maintains Thickeās souful vocal stylings and impish sense of humor, making it feel more like a strained but ultimately enjoyable fusion of different styles than merely Robin Thicke hopping on a Ke$ha instrumental.
The rest of Blurred Lines is a party album, but on Robin Thickeās own terms. His cartoonish loverman persona has always been more Pepe Le Pew than R. Kelly, so itās appropriate that perhaps the albumās best song is titled āOoh La La.ā Tracks like that and āGet In My Wayā recall the lush disco/funk arrangements of Thickeās best album to date, 2008ās Something Else, but with a little more Top 40-friendly oomph in the drums. āAināt No Hat 4 That,ā co-written by the singerās ā80s sitcom star father, Alan Thicke, verges a little further into goofy and lightweight territory than the rest of the album, but at least keeps the propulsive, danceable grooves coming. āTop of the World,ā featuring Rappinā Thickeās slack-jawed spoken word flow on the verses, is the albumās only wholly charmless misstep. Throughout the album, heās otherwise in great voice ā heās long had an impressive falsetto, but more and more, heās been in command of the low end of his vocal range, with a husky tone that almost recalls Michael McDonald at times.
Thickeās big crossover year comes at an interesting time. Beyond the obvious basis for comparisons, heās always had a similar vocal range to Justin Timberlake, but their musical styles had long been distinct ā Thickeās breakthrough single, the 2006 acoustic ballad āLost Without U,ā couldnāt have been more different than āSexyBack,ā which was ruling the pop charts at the time. But when Timberlake reemerged at the beginning of 2013 with the smooth, slick āSuit & Tie,ā many couldnāt help but comment that the song felt like a subpar Robin Thicke song. When Thicke released āBlurred Linesā soon after, and hit number one on the Hot 100, which none of Timberlakeās recent singles have managed to do, it felt like an unlikely role reversal. Surely, though, thereās room for both talented men, even if itās a bit discomforting to realize that pretty much the only two R&B singers making big crossover hits in 2013 happen to be the white guys (incidentally the same year that all of the big pop-rap songs are by Macklemore).
Blurred Lines never veers entirely back to the piano ballads and gentle bossa nova grooves that filled Thickeās earlier albums, but toward the LPās end there are some more intimate, personal songs that only lightly incorporate his new sound. ā4 The Rest of My Life,ā a Prince-influenced single aimed at the adult R&B stations that have long been his bread and butter, is a heartfelt account of his teenage love affair with his wife, movie star Paula Patton. And the closer āThe Good Lifeā is a humble meditation on whatās more important than the material trappings of success, as Thicke admits that he lives a normal family life, often going unrecognized in his hometown. Of course, the irony is that,Ā after this album, he may not be very anonymous anymore.