There was a time when Robin Thicke did not inspire an “ugh” from the peanut gallery. He released five R&B-pop albums in the 2000s without the politicization of his lyrics, videos, and general schtick. But the “Blurred Lines” wars of 2013 were dark times: “rape-y” became a word used with some amount of regularity, gratuitous nudity in music videos was questioned widely, and conversations about defining consent were almost exclusively tied to the unfortunate line, “I know you want it.”
Things went from weird to worse when Thicke and his wife of eight years (and high school sweetheart), actress Paula Patton, announced a “mutual” separation this past February, following months of tabloid talk regarding Thicke’s philandering. Since then, Thicke has taken highly public measures to let us know the split was not mutual, and that he will “get her back” with a new album named in her honor. Cue his sad-boy pleas on awards shows, a video recreating their text fights, and according to Billboard, new single art featuring Thicke and Patton looking into each other’s eyes. Patton, meanwhile, has taken the high road, saying only, “All I can tell you is there’s a deep love there — always was, and always will be.”
Unfortunately, Thicke is going about the whole thing wrong, and I’m not even referring to Paula being a hackneyed quickie album. What woman would want to be begged in front of the whole world? Between his on-stage grinding with Miley Cyrus and photos of him grabbing another woman’s ass, wasn’t his film-star wife publicly embarrassed enough before Thicke launched his creepy campaign? I say this not because it’s de rigueur to debase Robin Thicke, but because I don’t understand how he could consider this a viable strategy — for either his marriage or his career. As a promotional tactic, it’s coming off more, “eww” than “aww.”
Swiftian conjecture over lyrical subjects is not enough for Thicke, who tells Patton that he “wrote a whole album about her” in his “Get Her Back” video. Paula serves as a confession of his sins and a dissection of his failed reconciliation methods, likely dramatized and certainly cheesed-up to an irritating level. Still, mixing the two — bemoaning the relationship’s end and examining its causes — makes for a disjointed narrative, on top of a musical mixed bag that rips off an impressive breadth of eras. To name a few: “You’re My Fantasy” sounds like Marc Anthony back when the Latin music star attempted pop crossovers, “Still Madly Crazy” aims for Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” and fails to match even that song’s generic platitudes, “Living in New York City” places a bad James Brown impersonation over a stolen Stevie Wonder bassline, “Love Can Grow Back” borrows from Etta James’ “At Last” for the purposes of praising fake nails running down his back, “Tippy Toes” is an Elvis impersonator offering up a novelty song that wasn’t good enough for Chubby Checker, “The Opposite of Me” sounds as if Thicke had a real moment with Belle and Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit, and “Time of Your Life” proves that he could go full Bublé with just a little reputation rehab.
I find myself cringing — but not over how unoriginal Paula sounds, even amidst Thicke’s deluge of well-trodden blue-eyed soul. The inability to shake an unrelenting ex is bad enough. Imagine having your breakup laid out publicly without your side of the story represented. Still, I can’t decide which is more embarrassing for Patton: Thicke paying homage to their most romantic moments through saccharine piano ballads, or him recalling the romps he had with her — and others — over funky beats. Amidst it all, the sole consistency is Thicke’s bad pick-up lines. Rumors aside, Paula Patton would have to be deaf and dumb to take Robin Thicke back after an album this bad and an approach this crass.