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Album Review: Blurred Lines, by Robin Thicke

July 24, 2013
By

Robin-Thicke-Blurred-Lines-Album-CoverBlurred Lines is Robin Thicke’s 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 Trek’s 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 “Blurred Lines,” 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 “Sex Therapy” 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, “Blurred Lines” is the rare song that unites them, largely by virtue of an infectious homage to Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” 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 he’s ever had before, there’s 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 – “Take It Easy On Me” is a clunky, monotonous Timbaland banger, and the next single “Give It 2 U” uses dubstep-influenced Dr. Luke production to aim squarely at the kind of the pop radio ubiquity that “Blurred Lines” stumbled backwards into. But even that song maintains Thicke’s 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 Thicke’s own terms. His cartoonish loverman persona has always been more Pepe Le Pew than R. Kelly, so it’s appropriate that perhaps the album’s best song is titled “Ooh La La.” Tracks like that and “Get In My Way” recall the lush disco/funk arrangements of Thicke’s best album to date, 2008’s Something Else, but with a little more Top 40-friendly oomph in the drums. “Ain’t No Hat 4 That,” co-written by the singer’s ‘80s 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. “Top of the World,” featuring Rappin’ Thicke’s slack-jawed spoken word flow on the verses, is the album’s only wholly charmless misstep. Throughout the album, he’s otherwise in great voice – he’s long had an impressive falsetto, but more and more, he’s been in command of the low end of his vocal range, with a husky tone that almost recalls Michael McDonald at times.

Thicke’s big crossover year comes at an interesting time. Beyond the obvious basis for comparisons, he’s always had a similar vocal range to Justin Timberlake, but their musical styles had long been distinct – Thicke’s breakthrough single, the 2006 acoustic ballad “Lost Without U,” couldn’t have been more different than “SexyBack,” which was ruling the pop charts at the time. But when Timberlake reemerged at the beginning of 2013 with the smooth, slick “Suit & Tie,” many couldn’t help but comment that the song felt like a subpar Robin Thicke song. When Thicke released “Blurred Lines” soon after, and hit number one on the Hot 100, which none of Timberlake’s recent singles have managed to do, it felt like an unlikely role reversal. Surely, though, there’s room for both talented men, even if it’s 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 Thicke’s earlier albums, but toward the LP’s end there are some more intimate, personal songs that only lightly incorporate his new sound. “4 The Rest of My Life,” 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 “The Good Life” is a humble meditation on what’s 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, after this album, he may not be very anonymous anymore.

  • Red

    Good call on the best song.

    Really don’t like these plink-plonk Pharrell beats lately though, on either this one or Jay’s “BBC,” or anything in the last year really. something about guy’s drums is off.

  • RealGMan

    “Ain’t No Hat 4 That,” co-written by the singer’s ‘80s 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”

    That sentence just made my brain explode

  • mejumaxuturi

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    Really don’t like these plink-plonk Pharrell beats lately though, on
    either this one or Jay’s “BBC,” or anything in the last year really.
    something about guy’s drums is off.

  • Esteban Gutiérrez

    Ooo La La it’s actually the best song, I really agree with you!!!!

  • Al Shipley

    Pharrell’s drums have been kind of dinky and awkward, for better or worse, since the Neptunes started moving away from those hard Triton drums in like 2003. Sometimes it gets in the way of the track big time, on “Blurred Lines” or even “BBC” I think it mostly doesn’t.