The recent trajectory of Robin Thicke is akin to that of a Shakespearian tragedy. The man who, by the end of 2013 had everything (everything being a sleazy smash-hit that seemingly sat alongside a secure family life), is now estranged from his wife and has been cast as a social pariah by the vast majority of media outlets. The merciless cynicism of the responses to #AskThicke in late May only served to exhibit just how low his stock has plummeted. Whilst I can’t help but feel sorry for him, he probably deserved it. Thicke is the King Lear of the Twitter generation.
If Blurred Lines had Thicke playing the role of a toe-licking, well-endowed cheeky-chappy, Paula casts Robin as a penitent, cap-in-hand relationship man. This is the musical equivalent of the iconic scene in Say Anything, that sees John Cusack standing outside his estranged love interest’s window with a boom box. This album is drastically different from Thicke as most of us know him, and it’s not hard to prefer this introspective and decidedly downbeat type.
The Spanish guitar infused You’re My Fantasy, and leading single, Get Her Back, open this album. Both tracks epitomise a paradigm shift. The vocals, whilst indebted still to Justin Timberlake, are decidedly smooth as Thicke speaks entirely in romantic clichés:
Touch me, you’re my fantasy, My body’s yours, My heart is yours… All I want to do, Is keep you satisfied.
On paper this admittedly sounds dreadful, however it actually works rather well to form an adequate opening gambit. Inextricably tied to his reputation however, it’s difficult for Thicke to avoid coming across as a bit sleazy. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as one reviewer who describes Paula as ‘the creepiest album ever released’, certain lines are incredibly nauseating. Love Can Grow Back is one of the worst offenders, with Thicke sermonising early on:
You know cigarettes are bad for you, baby, But so am I.
Meanwhile, if this album, as Robin claims, is a heart-on-sleeve apology, Something Bad surely undermines the entire project as Thicke descends into the expected generic sex-sells rhetoric of his breakthrough, asserting:
I know you wanna fly, baby, so open up your wings, Then I’ll walk out with your legs shaking while you’re screaming, “Robin, please!”… Tonight I’m all yours, baby, But tomorrow I’m all mine.
Regrettably, Paula just can’t seem to help falling into the grim hedonism that caused such a furor against poor Robin in the first place.
The result then is, for the most part, a vast shift from Blurred Lines. Despite Paula having some cavalier moments, it thankfully never reaches the sheer naffness of Give It 2 U. Musically, this album is distinctly average and I strongly doubt that Thicke’s Timberlake/Buble-lite vibes will give him anywhere near the amount of success he managed with his breakthrough work. There’s little here that makes me remotely excited for any future projects Thicke may have planned, yet Paula is a well-advised step away from the tacky sound that defines him. If this album is honestly an attempt to rectify his previous and public mistakes, then this is a step in the right direction.