Robin Thicke’s new “Paula” album sounds as if he sang it in a whisper while sneaking through his ex wife’s house collecting his things. He’s feeling sentimental about having screwed up his life with a beautiful woman, and he’d kind of like her back but knows she won’t take him. So he creeps into her house while she’s sleeping, with a keyboard chained around his neck, a percussionist in tow, and a video guy to record the whole thing. He’s had a few drinks.
“Shhhh,” he cautions, putting his index finger to his pursed lips. By the end of the album, he’s got a bag of her most expensive jewelry, hangers full of his suits, and a painting they bought on their honeymoon in Paris under his arm. The getaway car is waiting.
“Paula” sports cover art that’s intentionally a reference to R&B albums of the 70s. That’s Robin Thicke’s obsession. He uses Alba typeface, famous from Curtis Mayfield albums and Melvin van Peebles movies. He’s also enamored of Marvin Gaye, as we all know. So he’s made his version of Gaye’s 1972 album “Here My Dear,” recorded as a divorce settlement gift to ex wife Anna Gordy (Berry’s older sister). “Here My Dear” was bitter and had no hits, but was kind of brilliant. “Paula” is in that realm. In releasing it, though, Thicke squanders all his success from “Blurred Lines.” You can’t dance to “Paula,” but you may call the police. Or a shrink.
Another title might have been “Stalker.” The best tracks are called “Lock the Door,” about how Patton kicked him out after she finally couldn’t take his partying, and “The Opposite of Me,” which kind of accuses rather than seduces Patton. And then there’s that Timberlake like single, “Get Her Back.” More and more I am convinced it means revenge– get her back for throwing him out– than get her to come back.
What about “Whatever I Want” which liberally samples Eric Clapton and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”? Let’s hope Thicke’s lawyers licensed it because it’s not just the “feel.” Everyone in the world knows that guitar line. In the same song, Thicke seems to be ripping off The O’Jays hit “Backstabbers.” Until we see the credits, we won’t know details about the provenance of all this soulful whining.
What works: the songs are short, at least. And they’re catchy, if not of course derivative. “Living in New York City” is a James Brown soundalike the way “Blurred Lines” aped Marvin Gaye. One thing’s for sure: Robin Thicke is a great white soul mimic. He’s the Southside Johnny of the new millennium.
If the “Paula” album sells or takes off, it will be a surprise. Think of it as an album of demos, something personal, a mixtape farewell. I doubt Paula Patton is coming back. She has the potential for a great career, she has a kid, and frankly, who needs this?
As for Robin, “Paula” is certainly not a concert album. A couple of these tunes could be arranged to fit into a show with “Blurred Lines.” But this is no party record. Unless he’s planning to scale down to wine bars and Samba nights at the mall, these songs performed live will mainly be useful at home, for his next lady friend.