Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Robin Thicke's "Sex Therapy": Time Is Seriously Running Out, Robin...

Rating: 2.5/5

You see far as I can see there’s certainly room for Robin Thicke.

On one end of the spectrum there’s the incomparable Maxwell, whose most recent release, “BLACKsummers’night,” astounded with its smooth instrumentation and majestically-vintage melodies. Way at the other end of the current R&B auteur spectrum is The Dream, whose ubiquitous, synthesizer-heavy sound has resulted in not only some of the finest pop songs of the past decade (“Umbrella” and “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” to name a few), but an outstanding debut album, and an even better follow-up, the criminally-overlooked “Love vs. Hate.” Robin Thicke, relying on Marvin Gaye(or Maxwell)-influenced falsetto crooning while not shying away from hip hop-influenced, dance floor-ready production, lies somewhere in between.

And with his latest offering, the aptly-titled “Sex Therapy,” Thicke makes this all the more apparent. 2007’s largely self-penned and produced “Something Else,” with its heavy-handed, 70’s soul-inspired sound, was a dud both commercially and artistically. Thicke’s ambitions were admirable, but the results were just plain boring. This time around Thicke has stepped away from the producer’s chair however, enlisting the assistance of the likes of Polow da Don and Teddy Riley, and racking up an impressive roster of guests, including Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Jazmine Sullivan, Kid Cudi and Game. The results clearly demonstrate Thicke’s mainstream R&B balancing act, at times recalling his earlier, retro-leaning sound before shifting into synth-heavy, 106 & Park territory.

And yet somehow, Sex Therapy ends up almost just as boring. Content-wise, things basically center on sex, sex, and then more sex, but that's to be expected, and isn't really the problem. No, unfortunately the blame can be laid firmly upon the shoulders of the man himself. Thicke’s Achilles heel is his voice, without question. Maybe he’s going for a sultry, sexy sound, but that’s no excuse for sounding as paper-thin as he often does. Once again, Thicke’s ambitions are admirable; he obviously admires the vocal stylings of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, but he simply lacks their dynamic, emotion-drenched delivery (something D’Angelo and Maxwell have mastered). Consequently, whether Thicke is tackling a mature, grown-and-sexy sound with the shuffling “Mrs. Sexy,” spare, low-key funk on “Make U Love Me,” or a frantic, booty-clapping heatrock like the Nicki Minaj-assisted “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy,” the results are always listenable…but bland. Very, very bland.

Now there are definitely moments on Sex Therapy where the writing and production is just too good for this to be such a big problem. “Meiple,” featuring a show-stealing Jay-Z, is genuinely inventive and fun, and Kid Cudi’s stellar, spaced-out, hard rocking contribution, “Elevators,” takes Thicke into new and almost-exciting territory. But at the end of the day, Sex Therapy glaringly lacks a singular, driving personality underneath all the gloss. And it’s just kind of inexcusable when you’re entire album could be sung by someone else, and no one would really care.

Like I said, there’s definitely room for you, Robin.

Just don’t get too comfortable, maybe?