Review: 13 Thoughts On Robin Thicke’s ‘Paula’ Album

Album Reviews

By: / July 2, 2014

Robin Thicke wants his baby back, and he’s not thinking ribs. The singer dedicates his seventh album, Paula, to his estranged wife. But is it all too much?

1. Before we get to the music, Robin really dropped the ball on the album cover. The album is called Paula. But the cover photo is Robin looking pensive? No. The cover photo was supposed to be an old-school picture of Robin and Paula together back in high school. Or a baby picture of Paula. Or one of their wedding photos or something. The album borders on obsessively creepy—why not go all out on the cover? 2. In case you’re wondering: He starts officially begging 55 seconds into the album. (On ‘You’re My Fantasy’) 3. In case you’re wondering, part two: The most pathetic lyric on the album is as follows: “Turn the porch light on/At least open the doggie door/Throw an old friend a bone.” (from “Lock The Door”) 4. Robin Thicke’s voice is a full octave (or two) lower on this album than his earlier music. And there’s a rawness that seems overt and purposeful. On several tracks, he sounds like he’s hungover, smoking an unfiltered Newport and nursing a severe case of strep throat. 5. Robin owes a huge debt to three women: Kimberly Johnson-Breaux, Alex Isley, (yes, from that Isley family) and Angie Fisher. These three handle all background vocals on the album and they are the glue that holds this project together. Whether Robin’s doing blues, jazz, soul or pop, these three songbirds tweak their whoo-hoos and baby-babys perfectly. Someone needs to bring all three of these women center stage—now. 6. This album is similar in tone and scope to Usher’s 2004 opus, Confessions. Fun Fact: a pre-fame Robin Thicke wrote “Can You Handle It” for the Confessions album. Funner fact: There’s an interlude on the song with a woman’s voice speaking—it’s Robin’s then-girlfriend, a pre-fame Paula Patton. 7. On songs like “Tippy Toes,” “Living in New York City” and “Time of Your Life,” Robin’s mimicry of other artists is so on point that it actually becomes a distraction. On this album, he doesn’t reference Marvin Gaye as much as he did on “Blurred Lines.” This time around, it’s more Frank Sinatra, James Brown and even hints of early Elvis Presley. All artists borrow from each other. But you have to find that balance between mimicry, homage and your own sound. Robin Thicke often brings to mind Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles. It didn’t showcase Jamie’s talent as a vocalist. It was more of just a spot-on impersonation. 8. “Love Can Grow Back” is one of several tracks with tinges of gospel music—but also unabashedly sexy. Sexy gospel. There’s something wrong with that concept. But somehow, it works. 9. Lyric that seems suspect given news reports that he hasn’t seen his wife in four months: We don’t know how this fairy tale ends/good thing we’ll always be best friends. (From “Time of Your Life”) 10. The real-life drama behind this album threatens to overshadow the fact that Robin Thicke is an accomplished musician. Check the liner notes: He wrote every track, produced a few as well, and plays piano, bass and even drums on a few songs. This begging thing is part of his shtick but he’s no one-trick pony. 11. “Black Tar Cloud” is an album highlight. It’s a voyeur’s view of what coulda-mighta-shoulda went down when Robin and Paula’s relationship hit the skids for good. He talks about being chased by someone wielding golf clubs, his guitar being smashed, being called “a spoiled little rich kid,” a faked attention-seeking suicide attempt and a cooling-off period that comes too late. If it did go down that way, it’s kind of icky that we now all know. But it makes for good music. 12. Robin’s being clowned for going so hard on this album to get his wife back, but musically Paula is a tour de force. Not a classic. But considering the narrowness of the subject matter, it will go down as one of his best albums. Critics are dismissing it because the subject matter is repetitive—and it is. But taken song by song, many of the compositions are masterful. 13. Ultimately, Robin spends way too much time on this album telling us (and Paula) how sorry he is. He should have veered from the concept just a time or two to let us know how fun it was to be a dirtbag. Things started to (publicly) fall apart when a photo surfaced of Robin Thicke and a mystery woman. The pic was innocent enough from the front. But the mirror behind them revealed Robin’s hand all up the girl’s butt. He should have done a song called “Mirrors.” About how what you see from the front ain’t always what’s real. Robin, call me. I’ve got the first two verses already written. —Aliya S. King (@aliyasking)
Aliya S. King’s is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including the New York Times Bestseller, “Keep The Faith,” with recording artist Faith Evans. She had written for VIBE since 1998. Find her at aliyasking.com and @aliyasking.