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Album Collection

Robin Thicke Album Collection

(Commercial Marketing) Buy it from Insound Rating - 1/10

2013 was a year Robin Charles Thicke won’t forget in a hurry. After more than a decade of chipping away at the coalface of loverman R&B with a moderate degree of success, he made it big with Blurred Lines. Blurred Lines was the kind of hit so huge that Thicke will never be able to escape it, regardless of what he does in the rest of his career. Like My Heart Will Go On defines Celine Dion and Gloria Gaynor will always be remembered for I Will Survive, Thicke’s worldwide smash will forever be inextricably entwined with him. After five albums, countless writing credits and years of never quite reaching music’s top table, Robin Thicke had finally made it.

But then people started watching the video. And then they realised there was an uncensored version of the video. And then they listened more closely to the words while watching the video. And then they wrote articles about Blurred Lines; lots of articles. Then being associated with Blurred Lines for all time didn’t seem so fun anymore.

There’s probably nothing more to be added to the Blurred Lines debate, so it shan’t be dwelt upon here, but the furore left Thicke with two choices: either admit all the criticism of him and the song was deserved (and leave him looking like a monster who knowingly wrote a song that insinuates there’s a grey area when it comes to consent) or front it out and, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insist the song was entirely innocent. In the end, Thicke chose the seemingly non-existent third option, where he refuted accusations of misogyny and of perpetuating rape culture whilst simultaneously attempting to play the bad-boy, lovable rogue. This ill-judged approach left him with a foot in both camps: he’s a poster boy for the kind of reprehensible morons who see women as conquests and believe such 'blurred lines' exist but he also looks like an idiot who’s naïve at best, and an outright liar at worst.

Normally, when previous albums are re-released after a big spike in profile, it’s purely a money-making exercise. However, putting Thicke’s first five, pre-Blurred Lines albums out in a new boxset looks like an attempt at damage limitation as much as anything else. There may as well be a sticker on the front saying, “He’s not just the Blurred Lines guy!”

Well, bad luck Robin Thicke, because while these records don’t contain anything as morally dubious as Blurred Lines, nor do they contain anything as catchy or arresting. Furthermore, it’s evident that the lecherous persona of a man in love with himself and his own perceived sexual prowess has always been evident.

The campaign to win hearts and minds begins with 2003’s A Beautiful World, originally released under the name of Cherry Blue Skies. It’s clear from the very beginning that Thicke’s bedroom-centric style has always been a feature of his music, but what’s most striking when comparing against the present-day Thicke is the change in vocal style. Today, Robin Thicke has a perfectly unremarkable voice but back then, it was actually unpleasant to listen to. For the most part it’s thin and reedy, with more than a hint of childishness about it. On the tracks that are intended to pack more of an emotional punch, he’s entirely unsure of how to express himself and the vocals come through like someone fighting to stop themselves from crying and their nose from running.

There are some horrifically clunky lyrics on A Beautiful World (“Sometimes you read like William Shakes / Your scent is sweet like Betty Crocker bakes” is a personal ‘favourite’) and the production sounds tired and dated. While this is an album from the beginning of the century, it was first released around the time of Justified, an album aiming for the same market which sounds light years ahead in comparison. Next to Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke sounds like a relic from an era of Babyface and New Jack Swing.

Proving the old maxim that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Thicke hits gold with the album’s lead single, When I Get You Alone. Built around Walter Murphy’s A Fifth Of Beethoven, When I Get You Alone is a fantastic song that races towards the climax of each chorus, buoyed by some great harmony work as well as its famous sample. Even further questionable lyrics (“Baby girl, you the shit / That makes you my equivalent” may have been recently appropriated by Beyoncé on Rocket, but it’s still a terrible couplet) can’t diminish its potency.

2006 brought us The Evolution of Robin Thicke, which given the progression displayed, isn’t such a ridiculous title as you might imagine. From the get-go, it’s more assured and it feels as if Thicke has properly grown into his voice. It’s on this album that he properly establishes the template which sees him through the rest of this album collection: heavy on the falsetto, frequent sexual boasting and a style which seems him provide the missing link between Michael Bublé, Ricky Martin and mainstream hip-hop and R&B.

Some of the livelier tracks are passable, but it’s weighed down by syrupy ballads with clinically smooth harmonies. Again, lyrics veer from laughable to creepy, but it’s baffling that anyone could have ever given Teach U A Lesson the green light for release (“You won’t get the grades you want / Unless you stay after school / Baby, you can work it off / I’m gonna give you extra credit”).

Something Else (2008) appears to pick up where Evolution left off; Latin rhythms, terrible lyrics and saturated with falsetto. It does seem a little more on the mature side though, and there’s hope that maybe he’s growing up somewhat. This development does mean Something Else often leans a little too much to the Bublé side though, and when this is added to the classic rock guitars of Hard On My Love, it’s like an ill-fated Santana comeback. Unlike the other albums here, Something Else’s detours into attempted modernity sound forced and clumsy, with the title track wearing its disco influences awkwardly, and Shadow Of Doubt falling into parodic Vegas razzmatazz.

Presumably, Thicke wasn’t keen on his detour into more grown-up waters, because he called his follow-up album, Sex Therapy: The Session (2009) (for those of you with a stronger constitution, there’s a deluxe edition entitled Sex Therapy: The Experience). On Sex Therapy, Thicke is practically a singing erection. The album opens with a track called Mrs. Sexy (no, really, an adult has decided to call a song that) in which Thicke explains that despite being hornier than an exhibition of Viking helmets, he’s also really into commitment too. Throughout the record, Thicke inadvertently comes across as desperate, yet he’s still utterly adamant of his own desirability and sexual acumen. The title track indicates he exists purely for the pleasure of women, but contains the line, “Don’t be scared of me.” It’s In The Mornin’, an ode to the joys of pre-breakfast relations, features the bizarre assertion that “You know I love it first thing ‘cause you just let it marinate.” As an aside, It’s In The Mornin’ is worth one (and only one) listen purely because you get to hear Snoop Dogg say both, “Tremendous” and “Splendid”.

Sex Therapy is summed up by the Jay-Z featuring Meiplé. Built around a sample of Brigitte Bardot’s Moi Je Joue (French for ‘Me I Play’, hence the French-sounding-but-entirely-invented title). What could potentially be a decent song in the right hands becomes little more than seaside postcard sauciness and suggestive lyrics while samples of Bardot oohing and aahing are played on a loop. What’s intended to be fun and sexy ends up being a life-sapping experience that’s guaranteed to bring out your darkest misanthropic feelings. Sex Therapy is also notable for being an album of eleven songs full of panting lust followed by a final track about how important mothers are which references suicide bombers.

Between Sex Therapy and 2011’s Love After War, Thicke and his wife had a son (suggesting that last record wasn’t as unsuccessful as you’d have expected), and there’s an optimism and an appreciation of life that’s immediately evident on the album. Unfortunately, Love After War is also the least interesting album of the five, running out of steam and ideas barely a quarter of the way though, and regularly repeating itself. The number of identikit ballads about that one special girl (Boring, Lovely Lady, Full Time Believer, I Don’t Know How It Feels To Be U) is stifling. Production-wise, Love After War is prodigious with the brass and strings, all of which points towards his Rat Pack aspirations. It seems like a concerted step away from the mainstream, and it’s strange to think that his next move after this was the multi-million selling Blurred Lines.

Listening to this album collection tells you a few things. It tells you that while Blurred Lines might have been unrepresentative of Robin Thicke in terms of song quality, it wasn’t entirely out-of-step with his previous work attitude-wise. It tells you that Robin Thicke has spent much his career playing catch-up, that he wasn’t a diamond in the rough, and his albums weren’t selling for good reason. It also tells you that he thinks he’s James Bond – the self-perceived irresistibility, the suits (check out the covers of both Something Else and Sex Therapy), the way he attempts to give the impression he’s an untameable man of mystery.

Despite all that, it doesn’t matter one iota what’s on these records. The enormity of the events of 2013 guarantee that he remains as he always will be. Robin Thicke: the Blurred Lines guy.