There’s been few part-time vocalists slash full-time chauvinists who can hold a torch to Justin Timberlake ever since JT showed everyone how to do smut all classy-like back in ’06. Even when they possess superior chops and more street cred they languish for a single and a half and quickly disappear. Charm is the name of the game and JT’s ability to win friends and influence panties is a finely tuned mechanism.
Even the subject of this piece, a Neptunes pet project, never elevated himself too far from Pharrell’s considerable lap. The issue was really the tunes. Robin Thicke has charm aplenty and teems with style: throwing his arms akimbo in the three piece suit while those baby blue opalescents blink all innocently at you. It was simply too bad the songs stunk.
But alas, opening with that song from the video we’ve all seen – a simply excellent pop song, which for a while was a challenge Thicke had not yet tackled – he follows through with flare. Second track, “Take It Easy On Me”, is better than anything on The 20/20 Experience—an album I reviewed back when it came out and found to be an Everest-sized molehill. I hacked at that bitch every which way and couldn’t find even an ember with which to light my crotch-fire. The aforementioned Thicke track is a sublime dirty talk session, replete with crystally synths and an elegant hook just begging for a club mix.
Front-loading the album with the two obvious singles, the ensuing tracks “Ooo La La”, “Ain’t No Hat 4 That”and “Get In My Way” work seamlessly through a very crisply and stylishly-produced lattice of disco, funk, R&B and electro infused with Latin and Caribbean influences. They’re fresh and danceable, though they can come off a little stiff at times. Thicke would have been better advised to stick with the heavier nightclub direction “Take It Easy On Me” was going.
Damn hard worker/verse-whore Kendrick Lamar drops a few bars on “Give It 2 U” and quickly sums up the album’s primary trope: “You’re like a needle in a haystack / Uh, I wanna sit you where my face at.” Euro-lounge number “Feel Good” is heavy on the cheese but is saved by a skilful hook and some creamy vocals. Closing track “The Good Life” regresses back to Thicke’s days on the adult-contemporary charts and makes for a wan end to what is otherwise a highly satisfying album.
It’s also a dirty piece of work, launching metaphors like great phallic rockets with every second line. But if you ask Thicke, he’ll just tell you his wife’s cool with it. And honestly, the fact that he’s married is part of what makes this album kind of subversive. Thicke introduced himself to the world with a banal adult-contemporary single some years back. The single, despite possessing the much-coveted Neptunes stamp, remained a languid and uninspired piece of boss nova schlock. Had Thicke’s career remained on that trajectory, Blurred Lines would have been his mid-life crisis album.
Instead, to hear the man say it: “the last year, my wife and I just really wanted to have fun again, we wanted to be young again and we wanted to dance again and go out with our friends, so I wanted to make music that reflected that culture.” Okay, so perhaps it is a mid-life crisis album, but it’s one where Thicke and the object of his lust and adolescent metaphors is also his partner. They walk hand-in-hand through the smut, hallucinogenics and general indulgences of this album, which is the sexiest thing about it.
The constant references to his schlong get tired and his skill with innuendo can be clumsy and obvious, but overall Thicke is never boring. The instrumentals are tailor-made for both Thicke’s silky falsetto and his crooning mid-range and the bountiful hooks act as an indulgence all their own. Blurred Lines is also Thicke’s most consistent effort yet, and that’s progress in anyone’s book.
(Star Trak / Interscope Records)