Robin Thicke’s new album, “Paula,” comes with a built-in “ick” factor. The whole album is allegedly an effort to woo back his wife, Paula Patton, who dumped him earlier this year for what looks like a whole laundry list of reasons, but primarily for being a douche.
Since then, he’s been on a public campaign that rivals that of politicians on the stump, declaring on award show after award show and at concert after concert that he wants her back. Note to Thicke: If you’re going to make a confessional album, it should be to confess your own sins, not to highlight also the frailties of the person you’re trying to win back.
Though his blue-eyed soul voice is as on point as always here, too often his efforts come across as self serving and terribly un-self aware and narcissistic, as opposed to sincere. Much of the album is just creepy. Many of the tracks are bolstered by upbeat productions and shimmery girl group backing vocals that seem in direct contrast to the message he’s sending. It’s not an unenjoyable album to listen to, it’s just a strange one.
Regardless of how you felt about the lyrical content on his 2013 mega-smash “Blurred Lines,” there’s nothing as musically catchy here as that tune. And if you hated “Blurred Lines” because of what some considered misogynistic lyrics like “I know you want it,” then you’re not alone. Yesterday, VH1 attempted a Twitter chat with Thicke to promote “Paula,” and encouraged fans to send in questions via #AskThicke. Instead, they were inundated with questions about “Blurred Lines” and its “rapey” lyrics and about his recent tabloid antics.
All things considered, it seems like maybe Thicke should have shut up and disappeared for a while and perhaps tried to Patton back privately because now, he’s not only lost his wife, he’s lost his fans as well.
Below is a track-by-track review of “Paula.” I tried to evaluate each song on its own merits outside of the album’s questionable mission as a whole and without bringing in Thicke’s most recent actions, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that none of these songs sound like a man full of remorse; they sound like a man full of himself.
“Paula” feels like a further violation of his breaking their marital trust: To be sure, he may need to grovel to win her back, but in his narcissistic need to play this out publicly, he drags her through the mud, exposing secrets about her, including an alleged fake suicide attempt, that feel like he is out for revenge more than for reconciliation. He’s not the first to make commerce out of heartbreak, but he may be the worst.
“You’re My Fantasy”: Lilting, dreamy, mid-tempo ballad where he declares she owns him and begs for her to come back because he is surrounded by her memory. A bit repetitive, but hypnotic in its own way. “I’ll never make it without you,” he chants at the end. GRADE: B-
“Get Her Back”: The first single from the set is a laundry list of mistakes he made and ways he’ll make it right: “I never should have raised my voice or made you feel so small… I should have kissed you longer… I’ll wait for forever to have you love me again.” He sounds smooth and breezy on the track, but hardly desperate. GRADE: B-
“Still Madly Crazy”: A piano ballad where Thicke recalls their happier days, when they were “soaked up in love.” Wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Legend album. A little too much info where he talks about how she couldn’t fall asleep without her head on his chest. Major confession: “I’m so sorry you had to suffer my lack of self control.” GRADE: B
“Lock The Door”: Musically, the album’s most interesting track musically with a foreboding piano line, gospel choir, and a response that serves as, supposedly, Patton’s response to his pleading. He recalls the minute he knew it was over. “She’s flying high, you can’t hurt her no more,” he sings. GRADE: B
“Whatever I Want”: Uptempo dance track that comes closest to the infectious “Blurred Lines.” Told from Patton’s standpoint through a female backing vocal, she’s free to do whatever she wants, but he still wants to kiss her all over. Top tapping. Would make a great dance remix. One of Thicke’s huskier, sexier deliveries. GRADE: B
“Living In New York”: The track opens with a female voice, presumably Patton’s, saying “I’m moving to New York,” before Thicke goes into a James Brown-like funky breakdown that details her actions there and how he deals with her departure. A stomping, hand-clapping rave-up complete with Thicke’s imitations of Brown’s “Good God,” and vocal yelps. If you thought he was copying Marvin Gaye before, you’ll go apoplectic on this one. GRADE: C
“Love Can Grow Back”: Oh, way TMI. On this torchy, bluesy, horn-laden track, Thicke revels in how much he loved watching her dance, but how he really loves getting horizontal. She’s going to get a manicure, which will lead to some hot lovemaking. “With your new nails on my back, you’ll be scratching, scratching my itch…something is broken only you can fix,” he sings as he hopes their love can grow back, but you’ll only feel voyeuristic after listening to this one. GRADE: C
“Black Tar Cloud”: If this one is true, it’s such a violation of Patton’s privacy, that it’s impossible to believe she’d ever take him back. Though Black Tar is a kind of heroin, this song describes Patton allegedly faking a drug overdose because she’s so mad at him. He confesses being jealous of her life and that he’s the only one who “double-dipped”—in another illusion to infidelity. Yuck. GRADE: C-
“Too Little, Too Late”: A skittering dance track where he’s begging again for her return. Not much of a song here, but a fun romp, even though he rhymes “roses” with “toeses”—no kidding. GRADE: B-
“Tippy Toes”: This retro track sounds like something out of the ‘60s as Thicke talks about a new girl in town dancing on her “tippy toes.” Sounds like an outtake from “Hairspray” or an all-skate selection from a skate rink from a bygone era. Empty and out of place. GRADE: C
“Something Bad”: Thicke starts off singing a cappella. He confesses that he’s been “so bad,” but it’s set to a peppy track with girl group backing vocals that make it clear that he finds his bad boy act absolutely charming, even if no one does, as he tries to coax her into bed and brags that he’ll leave her shaking and begging for more. If this is his idea of remorse, he needs to look the word up again. “Tonight I’m all yours, but in the morning I’m all mine. There’s something bad in me,” he declares. GRADE: C
“The Opposite of Me”: A doo-wop inflected song with Thicke singing gruffly about how he cheated, again, and had drunken rants. “All she needs is something I just can’t give her…because all she wants is the opposite of me.” Maybe it’s finally sinking in that she’s not coming back. GRADE: C
“The Time of Your Life”: Thicke turns into a ‘40s big band crooner on this track where he’s backed by a jaunty band. It’s such a weird disconnect from what he’s going through and his delivery is that of a schmalzy game show host or Miss America host. Is it meant to bolster Patton and remind her that she’s great or is it a weird take off on her experiences in Hollywood? Hard to tell. GRADE: D
Forever Love: Album closer is the closest to a heartfelt track here, where, accompanied only by a piano, Thicke tells Patton that no matter the result, and he acknowledges it’s looking pretty bleak, he will be forever there for here. Even though it’s a little laughable after the litany of his mistakes in the previous 13 songs and it only highlights his epic narcissism, taken on face value, it’s compelling in its own way. GRADE: B