Music Reviews
10:49 am
Thu August 22, 2013

Robin Thicke: Smirky But Sincere On 'Blurred Lines'

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 1:57 pm

Robin Thicke exudes a kind of oily charm that is, with the right material, by no means off-putting. A prime example is the single "Blurred Lines," which gives you the complete Robin Thicke Experience. The song is a come-on, because basically all Thicke does in his music is try to put the make on women. What prevents him from being too creepy is that he's also genial, even gentlemanly and debonair, when the object of his lust shoots him down. Sometimes his songs sound like parodies of hip-hop, of the sort Andy Samberg does with his pals in The Lonely Island, as in "For the Rest of My Life."

Listen and look past his roué image, and Robin Thicke is revealed as an earnest nostalgist. He persistently makes music that hearkens back to the quiet-storm soul and disco of the '70s and '80s. He's a smirky but sincere curator of the old sounds he loves, straining to approximate the croons of vocalists such as Peabo Bryson, Frankie Beverly and Philippe Wynne.

Blurred Lines is, overall, a fetching pop collection — a dreamy make-out record. But it threatens to be overshadowed by "Blurred Lines" the single, which is a phenomenon that just keeps on inspiring cultural contradictions. The video for the song shows Thicke, producer Pharrell Williams and the rapper T.I. surrounded by skimpily dressed young women who flit around the men and buzz away. Some people were offended by this. Now there's a question about the song's provenance; specifically, think of the percolating rhythm of Marvin Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up."

Last week, it was recently announced that Thicke's legal team is doing some preemptive work: They're suing Marvin Gaye's estate to prevent any potential lawsuit over the similarities between "Blurred Lines" and "Got to Give It Up." For good measure, Thicke's team included the 1974 Funkadelic song "Sexy Ways" in the suit just in case, even as author George Clinton has already said he has nothing against Thicke's song.

Now, when it comes to filching melodies and hooks, I give pop music a lot of slack. Whenever someone wants to yell sonic plagiarism, I get this image in my mind of Jimmy Page holding a stack of old blues-guitar records and chuckling with a wily rasp. One thing pop music is tidy about is recycling. Robin Thicke is not going to cut into the sales of Marvin Gaye or Funkadelic music; if anything, these songs are now going to be listened to by a generation that may not have heard the songs previously. As for Robin Thicke, well, he's a hard worker — he's been churning out songs for other acts, as well as himself, since the late '90s. And he's done it by blurring stylistic lines with a wink and a smile that just gets more sly, more knowing, with every release.

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Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Robin Thicke is a singer whose single "Blurred Lines" seems to be the pop hit of the summer. And yes, he is the son of TV sitcoms star Alan Thicke. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Robin Thicke's new album also called "Blurred Lines" and some thoughts on a controversy surrounding the single.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "BLURRED LINES")

PHARRELL WILLAIMS: Everybody get up. Woo. Everybody get up. Hey, hey, hey. Hey, hey, hey. Hey, hey, hey. Woo. Sing it, Robin.

ROBIN THICKE: (Singing) If you can't hear what I'm trying to say. If you can't read from the same page. Maybe I'm going deaf. Maybe I'm going blind. Maybe I'm out of my mind.

WILLAIMS: Everybody get up.

THICKE: (Singing) OK, now he was close. Tried to domesticate you. But you're an animal. Baby, it's in your nature. Just let me liberate you. You don't need no papers. Batman is not your maker. And that's why am going to take a good girl.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Robin Thicke exudes a kind of oily charm that is, with the right material, by no means off-putting. A prime example is the single "Blurred Lines" gives you the complete Robin Thicke experience. The song is a come-on, because basically all Thicke does in his music is try to put the make on women. What prevents him from being too creepy is that he's also genial, even gentlemanly and debonair, when the object of his lust shoots him down. Sometimes his songs sound like parodies of hip-hop, of the sort Andy Samberg does with his pals in The Lonely Island, as on this Thicke song "For the Rest of My Life."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE")

THICKE: (Singing) Finally convinced you to come over and just say hi. Oh. I say forever, my lady, and kiss you for the very first time. After months, holiday, holding hands in the park. Normally I'd just play basketball and something in the fall. And I messed up like boys tend to do. It'd be a year till I got back with you. Thank god that you called me back, baby. 'Cause I'd never be the man that I am today. For the rest of my life you'd know...

TUCKER: Listen and look past his roue image, and Robin Thicke is revealed as an earnest nostalgist. He persistently makes music that harks back to the quiet-storm soul and disco of the '70s and '80s. He's a smirky but sincere curator of the old sounds he loves, straining to approximate the croons of vocalists such as Peabo Bryson, Frankie Beverly and Philippe Wynne.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

THICKE: (Singing) Picked me out a rose stands by her man. She wants to party. She loves to dance. Won't raise my voice. Won't raise my hand. I keep telling your story. I'll understand. You can have my body. You can have my money. You can have my soul if you want it too. You've become a problem. I don't want to solve it. 'Cause I can't get over you.

TUCKER: The "Blurred Lines" is, overall, a fetching pop collection - a dreamy make-out record. But it threatens to be overshadowed by "Blurred Lines" the single, which is a phenomenon that just keeps on inspiring cultural contradictions. The video for the song shows Thicke, producer Pharrell Williams and the rapper TI surrounded by skimpily dressed young women who flit around the men and buzz away.

Now there's a question about the song's provenance; specifically, think of the percolating rhythm of Marvin Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up." Now listen to a bit more of "Blurred Lines."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLURRED LINES")

THICKE: (Singing) Always wanted a good girl. I know you want it. Hey, I know you want it. I know you want it. You're a good girl. Yeah. Can't let it get past me. You're far from plastic. All right. Talking about getting blasted. I hate these blurred lines. Everybody.

TUCKER: Last week, it was recently announced that Thicke's legal team is doing some preemptive work: They're suing Marvin Gaye's estate to prevent any potential lawsuit over the similarities between "Blurred Lines" and "Got to Give It Up." For good measure, Thicke's team included the 1974 Funkadelic song "Sexy Ways" in the suit just in case, even as author George Clinton has already said he has nothing against Thicke's song.

Now, when it comes to filching melodies and hooks, I give pop music a lot of slack. Whenever someone wants to yell sonic plagiarism, I get this image in my mind of Jimmy Page holding a stack of old blues-guitar records and chuckling with a wily rasp. One thing pop music is tidy about is recycling.

Robin Thicke is not only not going to cut into the sales of Marvin Gaye or Funkadelic music; if anything, these songs are now going to be listened to by a generation that may not have heard the songs previously. As for Robin Thicke, well, he's a hard worker. He's been churning out songs for other acts, as well as himself, since the late '90s. And he's done it by blurring stylistic lines with a wink and a smile that just gets more sly, more knowing, with every release.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET OUT OF MY WAY")

THICKE: (Singing) Come on, let's go. Ain't nobody going to get in my way. No, no, no. I'm going to make it no matter what you say. All right, all right. I'm flying by you. Better stay in your lane. So tonight ain't nobody going to get in my way. Stay out of jail. I'm tired of living it...

DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed Robin Thicke's album "Blurred Lines." Coming up, John Powers introduces us to the hardboiled Australian character Jack Irish. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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