In February of this year, Robin Thicke split with Paula Patton, his wife of nearly a decade. Though the ink is dry on the divorce papers, the R&B hitmaker is still holding out hope of winning her back.
To that end, he has unleashed Paula, a 14-track LP dedicated to his ex. Coming on the heels of 2013's immensely successful Blurred Lines, the project comes complete with aptly-titled lead single "Get Her Back." Robin Thicke is the sole vocalist on the project, which is entirely self-produced.
Paula is now available for purchase via online retailers via Star Trak/Interscope and full stream below!
Paula Album Review
I didn't get through to him. In fact, he looked at me in complete bafflement when I tried to explain that what works so well for infatuated dudes in movies—standing outside a woman's bedroom window in the pouring rain, hiring mariachi bands to play in her front yard, delivering unsolicited sonnets to her door—can come off as creepy, even threatening in real life. He'd bought so thoroughly into the concept of romance that he couldn't realize it was based on fiction.
By now I'm sure you've caught on to my point. What Robin Thicke's done to Paula Patton, his partner of 22 years, following their separation in February isn't loving at all. It's cruel, domineering and manipulative. Through teary public apologies, sad songs and some frankly disturbing visuals, the singer has engineered his own version of the events surrounding his divorce, and he's enlisted the public to cheer him on as he fights to get his woman back by his side, where he believes she belongs. And that's reason enough not to cheer for Paula, his seventh studio album.
Of course, classic music can come from some very dark, uncomfortable places, so it wouldn't be right to end the review there. While an album like Paula can't transcend its context, there's still the possibility of it being a good, even a great piece of art. Indeed, pre-release single “Get Her Back” seemed to bode well for the project. Its delayed, bossa nova-tinged guitar strums and wounded falsetto vocals have an elegant simplicity that even a card-carrying hater can't deny.
Unfortunately, the rest of the material assembled for Paula, by and large, doesn't live up to that cut's promise, or sustain its emotional appeal. For the work of a man wracked by heartbreak, much of it is surprisingly unconvincing. Piano-driven ballads “Still Madly Crazy” and “Forever Love” are too by-the-numbers to have much emotional impact. “Too Little Too Late” attempts to inject a little Justin Timberlake-style funkiness into the proceedings, but it's ironically a little too much, too soon; its ebullience seems out of whack with its subject matter. “Black Tar Cloud” benefits from a unique arrangement and some killer backing vocals (courtesy of Kimberly Johnson-Breaux, Alex Isley and Angie Fisher), but sounds more like a f**k-you than an apology. It's only on “The Opposite of Me,” a gentle, surprisingly gorgeous number with a hint of folk-rock in its leisurely, keyboard-laced arrangement, that Thicke reestablishes an effective harmony between form and content.
Thus far, I've only mentioned tracks that tie in with the LP's alleged purpose as a plea for reconciliation between the singer and his ex. But the weirdest thing about Paula, above and beyond the circus that is Thicke's personal life, is the difficulty he seems to have staying on message. Time and time again, I found myself scratching my head at his creative decisions. How does it help his case, for example, to open “Love Can Grow Back” with a line like, “You're way too young to be dancing like that in front of a man like me, baby.”? Was he trying to remind her of his penchant for playing grab-ass with younger women? And what conceivable good could it do to play up his rep as a skirt-chaser on “Something Bad,” which features those same excellent backing singers saucily scolding him, “You're such a bad baby!”? Moments like these seem much more likely to make Paula's namesake roll her eyes than rekindle her affection for her former husband.
At times, you get the impression that Thicke was actually bored while recording the LP—that he was just throwing sh*t at the wall to see what stuck. For a blurry Xerox of Little Richard's “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Tippy Toes” is pretty damn catchy, but it has all the pathos and gravity of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. And following the aforementioned “Opposite of Me” with the sprightly rhythms and fake Rat Pack crooning of swing pastiche “Time of Your Life” makes about as much sense as going to Hooters for lunch after a funeral.
If Paula was what it was advertised to be, a love letter from a troubled man to the woman whose good will he squandered, it could have been as captivating as its backstory is problematic. Instead, it's an odd, disjointed album that, despite scattered high points, leaves one wondering what Thicke was thinking when he put it together. Paula Patton deserves better, and so do listeners.
[Review by Rick Spadine, a DJBooth staff writer with the aptly-named Twitter handle @rspadine.)
DJBooth Rating - 2 Spins