The “Blurred Lines” music video has been entertainment news’ favorite talking point for the last six weeks or so. I followed it with a vague frustration. Now the album is here and we have 11 vaguely rapey anthems instead of just one to argue about.
Every review of Blurred Lines has to talk about the “Blurred Lines” controversy (or maybe they don’t and I’m just following the herd); I’m just gonna get it out of the way now. My vague frustration: I didn’t buy Robin Thicke’s first explanation of his intention for the video (quoted here), and I definitely didn’t buy that "Blurred Lines" is “a feminist movement in itself.” Thicke was going for shock value — breasts are shocking — and he got the attention he wanted. I never thought the song was a legitimate enough of an artistic, musical, or emotional expression to warrant the attention it received. It was half-baked and sloppily executed. Horny middle-aged men are going to be horny middle-aged men; sometimes they’re rapey. You stay as far away from the rapey ones as you can.
Now, I want to get past all that and look at the album aside from that, see what else Thick has to say. After five listens I’ve concluded ... not much. The content doesn’t venture from the “Blurred Lines” pop fare, talking about the asses I want, the dicks I got, champagne, blunts, cars, etc. You didn’t expect it to, but I figured I’d mention it.
There are a couple songs about getting over, and in the last song, Thicke raps to us about talks about life: “Life takes you up and down, and life spins you all around.” Nice. Good to know. Thanks, Uncle Thicke.
Thicke’s album follows all the new pop trends, namely, upbeat soul tracks, falsetto harmonies, organic-sounding instruments mixed with electronic textures. These were revolutions in the pop sound when they were introduced by Michael Jackson, and reintroduced by Justin Timberlake, Pharell, and Daft Punk. Thicke doesn’t push this sound in any new directions. His voice is not as dynamic as JT’s. It sounds at times like Thicke is doing impressions of other artists. I swore I heard John Legend in “Get In My Way,” and Bradley Noel from Sublime in “Top of the World,” and JT throughout. The fact his voice takes so many shapes over the course of the album is not impressive. It prevents the listener from getting an impression of Thicke’s style and personality. His music ends up seeming derivative, like it’s piggybacking its way into the limelight.
Tracks 2-6 blend together into an indistinguishable soul/funk/love mess. It’s hard to find unique elements that distinguish them from one another. On the latter half of the album Thicke tries some other odd styles — some rockabilly (“The Good Life”), motivational hip hop (“Top of the World”), and a ballad complete with Mary Poppins strings (“For The Rest Of My Life”). These songs do the necessary work of diverting the album’s sound into new channels, but they’re pretty awkward and can’t stand on their own.
Having a song with Kendrick Lamar is always a good choice. Thicke gets some points for that. “Give It 2 U” is one of the albums strongest. “Go Stupid 4 U” and “Ain’t No Hat 4 That” are also fun, but unremarkable. I didn’t realize at first, but why all the numbers in the song titles? Middle schoolers are the only people who write like that. This is what the album boils down to: funky/date-rape soul music for middle school girls. Robin Thicke has got that niche market.
Thicke is in the middle of the pack of modern pop crooners. His album is not intolerable or unlistenable. It’s very mediocre. If Thicke hadn’t made the “Blurred Lines” music video there would be little to no attention to his music. His music is not good enough generate interest on its own. I don’t think there’s any shame in that — plenty of artists are like that. That’s why he’s middle of the pack.
Bottom-Line Rating: 5 handwritten post-it notes in your crush’s locker, with 4’s and U’s instead of for’s and you’s, out of 10.