Specializing in sexed-up blue-eyed soul, Robin Thicke has always been one small step removed from the character Justin Timberlake plays in SNL‘s infamous “Dick in a Box” video: His dad is Alan Thicke from Growing Pains; his mom, Gloria Loring, starred in Days of Our Lives; his wife is actress Paula Patton, and most of his music has spun minuscule variations on Marvin Gaye classics: A typical Thicke cut is his R&B chart-topper “Sex Therapy.”
So for his sixth album, named after what’s already his biggest (and, quite frankly, best) hit, the NSFW-video-boosted “Blurred Lines,” he takes that final shameless step and puts his Thicke-ness right in our faces: “I gotta big dick for you,” he boasts in the intro to his Prince-ly latest single “Give It 2 U,” preemptively silencing scholarly debate over what the “It” of that title might possibly be. This is not the only time he references the largess of his gift: As with all of his albums, Blurred Lines is basically one Magnum-sized boudoir boast.
The difference — and yes, it’s a substantial one — is that Blurred Lines mostly forgoes the belabored ballads that comprised the bulk of his previous efforts. Aside from “4 the Rest of My Life,” a fidelity-pledging slow jam seemingly oblivious to all the frisky playa vibes flaunted elsewhere, nearly every song swings hard and fast. That may be a marketing decision: Until “Blurred Lines,” Thicke’s R&B radio triumphs have rarely translated to pop success, and R&B-to-Top-40 crossovers are now rarer than they’ve been in decades.
Fortunately, Thicke’s gene-deep gift for frivolity suits these extroverted floor-fillers. Like Timberlake, he’s a gifted mimic, and this time he’s enlisted Dr. Luke, Cirkut, Pharrell Williams, will.i.am, and Timbaland to flesh out and contemporize his impressions. The resulting mix of genuine horns, strings, guitars, and drummer-played rhythms with synths and programmed effects flatteringly skews Thicke’s tendency to play everything too literally: For every retro tribute, a 21st-century texture counters: “Ooo La La” productively mines the Quincy Jones catalog while “Take It Easy on Me” delivers Timbaland’s most relentlessly banging beats yet. After a decade in the game, Thicke has finally delivered the whole package.