Long a staple in the R&B world, Robin Thicke entered 2013 as an artist on the outer reaches of the pop landscape. While he wasn't entirely unknown to pop fans, considering he's had four singles crack the Hot 100, all to often he was known, rather condescendingly, as a poor man's Justin Timberlake. But while Timberlake rolled out his "20/20 Experience" comeback, Thicke kept a low profile and introduced a new single, "Blurred Lines," without the promotional assist of his label.
After its release on March 20, the words "low profile" would never describe Thicke's "Blurred Lines" again. First, it gained viral status, from its controversial, boob-laden music video and key synchs like a spot in a television commercial for Beats By Dre's Pill, which aired heavily during the NBA playoffs. Its status became legitimate when it hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 on June 12 and hasn't fallen since. Thicke has since shared two additional songs from his forthcoming album: "For The Rest Of My Life," an R&B cut much closer to his trademark sound and the EDM-heavy "Give It 2 U," which strays even further from his roots than "Blurred Lines."
If it seemed like Thicke was setting up fans for an eclectic -- or more negatively scattered -- album, then he's confirmed those suspicions with "Blurred Lines," out today (July 30). The album finds the 36-year old singer trying to take advantage of his newfound spotlight by striving to become the full-fledged pop star he's never quite been.
How do his forays into dance and funk hold up alongside his familiar R&B bedroom jams? Billboard takes a track-by-track look at "Blurred Lines."
1. "Blurred Lines" feat. T.I. and Pharrell Williams
Thicke leads with the reigning No. 1 song that placed him in the worldwide spotlight this year. Its video was criticized for being demeaning towards women, its lyrics were called out for their alleged "rapey-ness," but you'd be hard-pressed to find a critic with ill will towards the song itself. Pharrell's playful, minimalist electro-funk beat was an old trick from his Neptunes songbook, revived in the nick of time for 2013's song of the summer. It could have proved an interesting theme to weave throughout the album, though Thicke chose a far more eclectic route.
2. "Take It Easy On Me"
If this one sounds a lot like a 2013 reboot of "SexyBack," well, that's because it was produced by Timbaland, making the Thicke-Timberlake comparison unavoidable. Its electronic thump and patented Timbaland guest vocal stylings are a far cry from the more organic R&B sound of his earlier work, but since this is 2013 after all, it's almost surprising Thicke hasn't ventured down this path before. But could he have at least channeled some present day Timberlake/Timbaland?
3. "Ooo La La"
Here, Thicke ventures back into familiar territory with a glossy, bedroom-ready R&B joint that would have fit nicely on his last effort, 2011's "Love After War." "Ooo La La" employs a lavish studio treatment, which serves it well, as Thicke's feather-weight vocals bask in multi-tracked glory.
4. "Ain't No Hat 4 That"
Thicke edges further into his comfort zone with this jubilant disco-soul romp, which he co-wrote with his father (actor Alan Thicke) and produced himself. This one's an absolute winner, as Thicke lightens up and channels 70s dance floor indulgences without sounding like he's trying too hard.
5. "Get In My Way"
If Robin Thicke led an R&B zumba class, it would probably sound something like this. In all seriousness, "Get In My Way" is begging to be made into a workout song, which is the effect you get when singing, "Ain't nobody gonna get in my way, I'm gonna make it no matter what you say" over a jubilant horn section. By keeping the mood loose and funky, this mid-album sweep stays winning.
6. Give It 2 U Feat. Kendrick Lamar
Here's where a lot of Thicke's old fans will start scratching their heads, and where, years later, we'll probably be thinking "Give It 2 U" sounds an awful lot like 2013, though not in the best way. On this club hopeful, Dr. Luke gives an ill-fated will.i.am impression while Thicke sounds about as lyrical as Pitbull, spouting cliché after cliché (though the line "I got a big dick for you" is delivered so free of pretense, it's actually kind of funny). Kendrick Lamar adds an uninspired verse, which doesn't help matters much.
7. "Feel Good"
"Feel Good" is one that actually was produced by will.i.am. "Give It 2 U" is followed by another EDM-tinged track, though this time, the light trance flourishes are understated enough to allow the song to breathe on its own. Meanwhile, Thicke interrogates his lover a la 50 Cent in "21 Questions:" "If I ran all out of money, would you pay for me?"
8. "Go Stupid 4 U"
The acoustic guitar, which played a much more intimate role in Thicke's previous efforts, gets a reprise on this low key track, which, somewhat surprisingly, was also produced by will.i.am. It's not one of the album's highlights, but it's serviceable in lightening the mood after several dance tracks and bridging into the final 3 songs.
9. "For The Rest Of My Life"
Here's another one that's likely to win over Thicke's core fan base. It's a lovey-dovey R&B ballad with slow dance potential that tells the tale of two teenaged lovers: Thicke and his wife, actress Paula Patton, whom he began dating at 16. On an album the singer has described as his least personal yet, "For The Rest Of My Life" is an honest, welcome change of pace.
10. "Top Of The World"
Thicke keeps the storytelling going with this rags-to-riches story of a female muse who's risen to power and wealth from her community college days, yet still suffers from stress and loneliness. The music matches the good life feel of the lyrics, with a smooth trombone and sax combo guiding the groove along.
11. "The Good Life"
"The good life, I know I made it," Thicke sings triumphantly on this piano and strings number which sounds like a solid graduation ceremony number, or in this case, album closer. Another song written by Thicke, it closes off a strong 3-song sequence on "Blurred Lines." If only the whole album could have benefited from this continuity.