Robin Thicke's 'Paula': What the Critics Are Saying
Paula, Robin Thicke’s follow-up to his 2013 smash album Blurred Lines, may have been a misstep for the Canadian soul man. His heartbroken passion project has met with mixed reviews, with many critics comparing Thicke’s latest effort to a similar undertaking by one of his idols, Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear.
His seventh full-length release, which follows three Grammy noms and a very public separation from his high school sweetheart and estranged wife, actress Paula Patton, is “a sharp departure from the blithe mood of 2013's Blurred Lines," says Billboard.com’s Clover Pope.
Thicke may have blurred a few lines himself while deciding what to keep private and what to share. “If it sounds like TMI, that's because it is. Paula plays off how invasive and uncomfortable a celebrity breakup is — not just for the couple involved, but for those watching and, in this case, listening,” says Pope.
According to USA Today’s Elysa Gardner, whether you’re listening for the music or the gossip-page fodder, you most likely won’t be disappointed. “What seems clear is that Thicke is, well, sorry, and determined to set things right,” says Gardner. “Yet Paula also reminds us what a fluid and expressive singer Thicke can be. The album is more texturally and emotionally varied and melody-focused than last year's Blurred Lines, with arrangements that nod heavily to old-school soul.”
Thicke recently put out the first single off the release, “Get Her Back,” with a music video that received a similarly tepid reception. Says Rolling Stone’s Ryan Reed: “There's a magnetic quality … but given the real-life context, the overall effect is slightly disturbing.”
The Toronto Star's Ben Raynor simply finds Paula a little tiring. “It’s unlikely to scale the heights [of] Blurred Lines … but that is in large part because Thicke’s dogged focus on winning his ex back with a succession of syrupy 'I’m sorry' slow jams has meant beating a retreat back from the calculated chart-baiting of its predecessor to the nondescript, watered-down R&B balladry he’d been hawking for the five albums that came before his all-points breakthrough. The self-pitying lyrical tedium doesn’t help, of course, but it might be excused if the music didn’t get so tedious, too."
“Catchy as most of the songs may be, many sound like re-figured R&B/soul tracks we’ve heard before,” said Jim Farber of the New York Daily News. “Similarly, Thicke’s considerable vocal skills can’t wipe away the sneaking feeling that he’s always doing an impersonation of someone else. Listening, you never feel you can entirely trust the guy, which may be the album’s most revealing aspect of all."
Some reviewers, like The Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano, were not as kind. “If you’d rather, however, see Paula as a cautionary tale about gender, narcissism, celebrity culture, and what not to do when someone dumps you, there’s plenty of that here. … Thicke seems to think Paula is all 'about' Patton, but really, it’s all about him — his self-flagellation, his mea culpas, his pleas, his epiphanies … in a convoluted musical attempt to show that he, you know, empathizes."
Here's hoping Thicke will have better luck in matters of the heart than he did with the critics.