[23 October 2006]
A lot has changed for Robin Thicke since the release of his first album, Beautiful World, and his sophomore effort, The Evolution of Robin Thicke. For starters, Thicke began with a public image makeover: he changed his name from simply “Thicke” to his government name, cut off his scraggly hair and coiffed it into a sharp and masculine style, and toned down his in-your-face refutations of riding off of his father’s fame. In addition to these shifts, the omnipresent Pharrell coaxed Thicke into granting the Neptunes permission to handle the production on his next record. This album was repeatedly pushed back by his label for reasons highly suspect (insecurity, perhaps?), but with the single “Wanna Love U Girl” boiling overseas and a core fan base jonesing for a sequel to Beautiful World, Interscope inevitably opted to quietly release Evolution into stores.
Although The Evolution of Robin Thicke is undoubtedly far from a misnomer, as Thicke has changed in appearance and situation, the music has concurrently gone through a backwardly stylistic digression. Where Thicke used aggression as the root for his first record’s compositions and tone, Evolution reveals his whole new approach to penning and recording songs. Thicke has shed his aggressive demeanor and adopted the “soft ‘n’ sensitive” guise, consistently slipping into falsetto a la Justin Timberlake to cement this persona into place. The tracks have also gone from spicy to milky, as Thicke has slowed the tempo and focused more on a fuller quality of the pieces. Consequently, Evolution is a typical yet syrupy offering of blue-eyed soul, with songs that are far from breaking new ground but instead propagate what other R&B artists, like Timberlake (who, coincidentally, enlisted Pharrell for the soul-dipped Justified), have already uncovered as musically successful.
Evolution, unlike its predecessor, is considerably piano-based, as Thicke is trained in the art of key-tickling, and most of the tracks consist of the same additional wad of band fodder. The recurring suspects are heavily filtered rim shots, basement dive-guitar, ride cymbals, and a shaker to match, but instead of using the instruments in a petty and repetitive fashion, Thicke plays with their tempos and styles to stew up a diverse dichotomy of slow jams and sleeper bump tracks. The album hinges on this constantly morphing momentum, as Thicke is cognizant of the fact that in rhythm and blues, artists must equally balance their placement of ballads and pumpers. In this way, Thicke’s album picks up where it has the potential to drag and vice versa, correlating an adequate synchronization with the listener’s attention span.
The up-tempo tracks on the album are hot and cold, with some out-of-context tunes jolting the record’s flow, but when the songs work, Thicke is at his best. On the bop-a-dop “Complicated”, Thicke strikingly outlines the loss of a love interest, while he channels faith in an effort to keep a distant relationship together on the gospel-brushed “Can U Believe”. The album’s fresh single, “Wanna Love U Girl”, may not have the frenetic and electrified feel of his breakthrough, “When I Get You Alone”, but Thicke re-contextualizes his newfound sound into a subtle club banger, which became even more effective on the non-included remix featuring Busta Rhymes. Rap does have its presence, though, on the tracks “All Night Long” and the milked “Shooter”, both featuring Lil’ Wayne, who acts as the perfect rap complement to his newfound soul cousin. Where Thicke fails in party tracks is in his attempts to incorporate unwarranted musical styles, like the salsa jam “Everything I Can’t Have” and the chunk funk on “Cocaine”, the album’s only truly unlistenable track. Fortunately, Evolution‘s thoughtful track placement allows these tracks to easily meld into the ensuing and crisp slow jams.
On the record’s ballads, Thicke flexes his falsetto as he croons about the overly plump muse of love. The album’s first official slow jam, “Lost Without U”, possesses a calm vibrancy, though Thick undermines the track’s dreamy atmosphere with laughable lyrics like “Touch yourself when u see me / Tell me how u love my body / And how I make u feel baby”. Fortunately, Thicke redeems himself on the later strolls down Romance Lane, with the bittersweet guitar whispers of “Teach U A Lesson” and the overt desperation of “I Need Love”, which shades Thicke with a puppy-like piteousness without destroying his dignity. Thicke finishes off with three consecutive ballads, all of which hold their own prospective ground: “2 the Sky” is a mildly overwrought tune that builds in accordance with its emotive lyrical elements; “Lonely World” is the late-night “serious” track; and “Angels”, the most gorgeous song on the album—even in its derivative moments—is the perfect clincher. While the slowed pace of these pieces may leave the listener with a feeling of unwanted serenity, Thicke’s newly adopted musical style of hushed singing seems to justify a softer edge to the finale and allow the tracks to adopt the most graceful method of completion.
Evolution may be far from delivering what R&B dwellers have not heard, but fortunately for Thicke, this mode of genre seems to be the most fitting for such a talented musical penman. Instead of inordinately changing style throughout the album for the sake of diversity, Thicke understands that consistency can enrich what the listener already knows and loves. And though the album will more than likely vanish from public prospects as unnoticed as it entered them, the playability and quality of the work will remain unquestionably constant over time, and for fans of blue-eyed soul, Evolution will surely be a keeper.