There's absolutely nothing subtle about Robin Thicke, which is both his greatest strength and, well, the reason lots of people think he's a lunkhead. From his elevated hair to his wolfish grin to the audacity of Blurred Lines, the guy is all id, all out there. He definitely shares braggish traits — and undeniable talent — with Kanye West, especially with the sheer brazenness of Thicke's new album, Paula.
Paula is for actor Paula Patton, Robin's estranged wife. They'd been together 21 years; they have a child. Patton left the lothario pop singer after he (1) allowed Miley Cyrus to use his lap as a launching pad at the MTV VMAs; and (2) was caught playing grabby-grab with a backstage groupie, a woman who captured the moment for social-media posterity. (Duuude, you gotta check for mirrors.) I'm not saying those are the reasons for the split; that's just the timing. Paula is a husband's mea culpa, a breakup/makeup album, but it provides as many reasons for Ms. Patton to stay away as to stay.
That said, Paula is the perfect record for our times, when Facebook/Twitter/Instagram urge us to overshare, overindulge. There's no discretion anymore, no privacy, no restraint; everything is for everyone, so why not spill your problems into the universe? Thicke is doing just that ("I never should have raised my voice / Or made you feel so small," he sings on burbling midtempo first single Get Her Back). The response from the peanut gallery has been vicious but — and I'll play defense attorney here — hypocritical. Thicke is doing what everyone else is doing, just on a grander scale. That doesn't make it right. But it does make it fascinating.
Oh, it's way too long, and a handful of songs are generically sappy and floppy. But for all his questionable life traits, Thicke can be a skillful singer and producer, and Paula is very much his work, from the words to the music. Fans and celeb voyeurs should both be pleased.
He's always been open about his influences (again, zero subtlety), and they're all here. There's an homage to the Brazilian rhythms of Antonio Carlos Jobim on lush opener You're My Fantasy, in which he gets to begging straight out of the gate: "Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please." He barks like James Brown on the call-and-response strut of brassy Living in New York City, which is a ton of fun, the dude trying to keep things light with his ticked-off lady. He goes full Marvin Gaye — who once released a caustic divorce album, Here, My Dear — on Love Can Grow Back ("Shine your magical touch and heavenly light on my body, baby / Show me our love can grow back"). He nods to John Legend on piano ballad Forever Love, in which he tries the whole I'll-always-be-here-for-you thing: "And you can lean on me, anytime baby, for anything you want …"
But the best track on Paula is also the wildest head-scratcher, a car accident you can dance to. Set to a neo-disco beat, with a Motownish girl group as a tsk-tsking Greek chorus, Something Bad ("There's something bad in me") is a startling confession, at one point even alluding to a backstage "bird" that "took a picture and left with a naughty tweet." But hey, the man does whatever he wants, a trait that Patton admired (maybe) for 21 years. Here's hoping the couple can work out their problems. Either way, Robin Thicke will probably let us know about it.
Contact Sean Daly at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife.