I can think of three different ways to approach a critique of Robin Thicke’s rebooted career as a for-real R&B singer.
The first is to frame it in terms of being Alan Thicke‘s son. This is the slant that offers the most potential jokes, but I have much respect for Alan Thicke’s songwriting abilities. I swear that no amount of brain damage will ever render me unable to recite his theme song for Family Ties, and that is impressive.
The second is to focus strictly on the merits of Robin Thicke’s new The Evolution of Robin Thicke (Star Trak). It is a balanced record in that the dirty funk of songs like “Cocaine” is enough to negate the other parts, which sound exactly like how you remember bad Babyface songs sounding. This approach is as boring as his songs that sound like bad Babyface.
The other way is to play the race angle, which you might phrase as, “Who the hell is in charge of handing out ghetto passes these days?” Back in 2002, John Mayer was the guy who wanted to romantically bad-touch that one actress, Justin Timberlake was barely getting over the video where N*Sync were supposed to be puppets, and Robin Thicke was cruising the streets of New York by bike in possibly the most douche-chillingly white video of all time. Now Mayer is the most beloved guitarist in hip-hop, T.I. showing up on a JT track makes more than strictly financial sense, and The Evolution of Robin Thicke has not one, but two songs with Lil Wayne — one of them a rerelease of a track from Weezy’s Tha Carter II, which means that Thicke somehow got on the best rap record of last year. I’ve always loved the way that hip-hop’s embraced the most random-seeming trends, but the whitebread-white-boy-as-accessory thing is at the very least perplexing. You’d figure hanging out with dudes who order from the J. Crew catalog could only hurt your hard-earned/well-scripted street cred.
But I have to admit that something about it just works. It’s kind of like Warren G rapping “Regulate” over Michael McDonald’s soft-rock classic “I Keep Forgettin,” where the uber-Caucasian vibe — “Forgettin” was written by Leiber and Stoller, creators of some of history’s whitest jams — both contrasts and compliments the gangsta rap theatrics. If you go too hard with the rock side of a hip-hop/rock combo — see the Judgment Night sound track, all nu-metal, etc — you don’t have the same kind of compelling friction. Get a rapper and a band both trying to prove how hard they can bring it, and the result is limp. You gotta sort of wuss it up a little to really set it off, and I gotta say that in addition to the blessing of a fine singing voice, Robin Thicke’s really the man for bringing the pussed-out vibe for real.
If you’ve had the Family Ties theme song stuck in your head since the second paragraph, raise your hand. Someone’s gotta get Alan Thicke in the studio with Ghostface now. Imagine the possibilities.