[19 February 2010]
Sexy songs and songs about sex – two distinctly different types of songs, no matter what a young new jack will tell you – are so common nowadays that it’s hard to imagine a time when artists had to be really clever with their lyrics to get a such a message across. Of course, with ubiquity comes a substantial uptick in artists who just want to exploit the taboo nature of recording and releasing songs about the sticky icky.
And in the decades since men like Marvin Gaye explored the false dichotomy between the profane and the divine with still-devastating emotional honesty and complexity, many a young soul man has tried to do the same, often to less satisfying results.
Such is the case with Robin Thicke and his latest album Sex Therapy, which is frequently quite enjoyable, but is lighter on nuance and genuine adult sensuality than I think Thicke intended. He masks frequently silly, sometimes groan-inducing, lyricism with some terrific songwriting and typical trendy production.
But ultimately Sex Therapy is cheeky, not sensual.
Take “Shakin It 4 Daddy”, which features new incoherent female rapper Nicki Minaj. It’s a pretty standard Polow Da Don production, but it succeeds in rendering all the lyrics meaningless. It’s the rhythm of the language that you respond to, not necessarily what is being said. “Meiplé”, which features a typically winning, if completely non-sensical, verse from Jay-Z, and “Make U Love Me”, are so silly and inoffensive that I doubt they make much of an impression at all. Teddy Riley’s “Its In The Morning” has a gorgeous melody, a great lead vocal performance, and a laconic Snoop Dogg, so you just don’t pay attention to the silliness of it all. Ditto for “Mrs. Sexy.”
Good then that Robin Thicke balances the album out with a number of really strong songs. “2 Luv Birds” is a beautiful piano ballad, which did appear on the internet in a different form as a leaked Usher song last year, and “Jus Right” and “Diamonds” are summery mid-tempo jams, the former of which features the best lyricism on the album.
The two Jeff Bhasker productions, “Elevatas” and “Rollacoasta”, are the most musically interesting songs on the album, but they are also very derivative. “Elevatas” is a Michael Jackson rip-off (sounding at various points like a slower “Smooth Criminal”) and “Rollacoasta” is a disco jam that would have been right at home on The Jacksons Destiny album.
Sex Therapy is a well-made album, to be sure. But it’s hard to listen to it and think that any babies will be made to it. It is definitely more cartoonish than anything 70s soul men would have released, no matter how great some of the melodies are. And it’s hard to tell if the cheekiness was intentional or incidental. I’m inclined to think the former, if only because I’d like to think that an artist of Robin Thicke’s caliber is intentional.
That said, the larger issue here is one that has plagued Robin Thicke since he dropped his debut album seven years ago – he is still an amalgam of influences that never quite gel into a fresh, unique, dynamic new artist. Like Lenny Kravitz, Thicke is a very talented musician who you can never quite see clearly because his influences are always so front and center. How much one enjoys Robin’s music is directly related to how much that kind of thing bothers you.