Robin Thicke
The Evolution of Robin Thicke
2006
A-



by all rights, Robin Thicke should be damned near the whitest man alive. His father is sitcom star (and TV theme penner) Alan Thicke, while his mother is former soap star (and TV theme penner, really) Gloria Loring, who had a #2 single in 1987 with the so-overblown-even-Celine-Dion-wouldn’t-touch-it Carl Anderson duet “Friends & Lovers.” Shouldn’t that make their son Robin something along the lines of, say, Vanilla Ice? Or even Pat Boone? Fortunately, that’s not the case at all, as his long-delayed sophomore effort, The Evolution of Robin Thicke, is almost ridiculously soulful. Following on from the promise shown in his debut single, 2003’s “When I Get You Alone,” Evolution shows that while Thicke’s not quite to greatness yet, he’s on his way.

First of all, Thicke’s got a falsetto just as sweet as Prince’s, and maybe even creamier. (He’s also got Prince’s unfortunate predilection for “to = 2” and “for = 4,” but that’s easily ignored.) Also like Prince, he (co-)produces and (co-)writes his own material, and sounds effortless doing it. Did I mention he plays piano, guitar, and drums as well? Yeah, Thicke’s got talent.

Much of his material is of a “grown folks’ R&B” ilk, but never sounds stodgy, taking pages more from the John Legend and (occasionally) Justin Timberlake playbooks. (The Timberlake comparison is unavoidable, as their voices are of the same timbre.) Evolution is at times a bit too ballad-dependent, but if that’s his strength, why shouldn’t he play to it? He doesn’t limit himself, fortunately; opener “Got 2 Be Down,” featuring Faith Evans, apes mid-‘70s mid-tempo Marvin Gaye. (Faith’s a perfect vocal foil for Thicke, too.) “Wanna Love U Girl” seemingly came out at least two years ago (I could swear I heard it on a mixtape back in ’05) but still sounds (re)fresh(ing), thanks in no small part to its Neptunes production (it’s the album’s only track not produced by Thicke and Pro J), but also to Thicke’s lovely make-you-melt-into-a-puddle-on-the-floor vocal.

In other non-ballad news, there’s a pair of collabos with Lil’ Wayne, the reworking of Beautiful World’s “Oh Shooter” (which Weezy did for Tha Carter 2 and is repurposed here), and the much better “All Night Long,” a sexy lil’ club jam. There’s also the over-the-top mambo-sampling “Everything I Can’t Have,” which is a marvelous oddity. Then there are the quieter highlights: “Teach U a Lesson” could nearly be a pre-1980 Prince track, just vocal, click track, and acoustic guitar, and there’s a pair of piano-based ballads at album’s end (the stunning “2 the Sky” and almost-as-good “Lonely World”) that Brian McKnight would kill a man for – but couldn’t do as much with as Thicke does.

The Evolution of Robin Thicke won’t change R&B any more than John Legend’s “Ordinary People”-anchored debut did. But it’s a completely refreshing change of pace, an album full of adult/grown-up R&B that won’t make you feel as if you’re 50 years old. Kid’s got skills, and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here. This is one of the sleepers of ’06, so much so that it’s just starting to hit in ’07. Pick this up and make some sweet, sweet love.



Reviewed by: Thomas Inskeep
Reviewed on: 2007-02-01
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