I was walking down Market Street in San Francisco, enjoying a delicious carne asada burrito, when a man in a business suit walked by me. He seemed perfectly ordinary, so at first I didn’t pay attention, but then he stopped, pulled a can of paint out of his bag and began painting random white lines all over the sidewalk. Amazed, I quickly looked around at the other people on the street - not only was this blatantly illegal but it was also clearly insane – but no one else seemed to notice. How could they …
DJBooth Album Review
What does all this have to do with Robin Thicke and his third album Something Else? Well, much like watching a guy in a business suit paint, no one else seems to be talking about something that seems obvious to me: Robin Thicke can't sing. Don’t get me wrong, Thicke’s an extraordinarily gifted songwriter, and I absolutely respect his insistence on making his music on his terms, but all he can do is that one breathy, sexy whisper style (aka his breakthrough single Lost Without You) and that’s it. His lack of vocal fireworks may not be a problem on a song-by-song basis, but over the course of a full album it can be underwhelming at best. Come on, I can’t be the only one. Right?
Just take his lead single Magic, a Marvin Gaye influenced track that’s one the album’s best. Magic is a lushly produced song, expertly blending a '70s styled horns and percussion with a velvety string section, but at times Thicke seems vocally overwhelmed by the song’s energy (despite the occasional “woo!”). Magic’s a damn good song, and Thicke’s deservedly made it a hit, but in the hands of a more dynamic vocalist like Anthony Hamilton, to pick someone at random, it could have been a classic. It’s the same story on The Sweetest Love, except Thicke’s traded in his Marvin influence for some Stevie Wonder inspired phrasing. In the hands of almost anyone else Love’s syrupy sweet sound would be too much, but Thicke’s sincere honesty manages to turn Love’s easy sentimentality into a legitimate love song. No, it’s not the romantic cliches that drag Love down, it's Thicke's voice. I’m not demanding he gets down like Keyshia Cole, but where his voice should soar it hovers, and where it should climax it only sputters. Simply put, Something Else is a decent album that could have been a great album, if only Thicke had the vocal greatness to match his songwriting skills.
With that said, there are moments on Something Else when Thicke’s softly rasping voice works perfectly. The slow-paced, blues-tinged Dreamworld is easily my favorite song on the album. When laid against Dreamworld’s softly echoing guitars and piano melodies, Thicke’s voice sounds captivating, drawing you closer with every note. Cry No More is an equally compelling track, allowing Thicke to luxuriate in the champagne soaked ballads that he does best. Make no mistake, Thicke doesn’t do party music, and he doesn’t do baby-making music, but when it comes to pure, heart-felt love ballads that show an uncommonly honest vulnerability, no one does it better. Still, for every Dreamworld there’s the upbeat Hard On My Love, a fast-paced track that Thicke can’t seem to control, or Sidestep, Thicke’s attempt at a two-step that’s one-and-a-half steps at best. In the end, tracks like these weigh down Something Else, turning a potentially great album into a merely decent album.
On Something Else Thicke set out to make an album that breaks the Diddy-esque r&b style currently dominating the ariwaves, a style that lives on hot beats and voyeristic sex, and he succeeded, but if you think this album is that unique than you don’t listen to a lot of non-radio music. Thankfully there’s no shortage of artists making creative, inspired soul and r&b music, and they’re doing it better than Robin Thicke. So please, don’t peg me as a hater, I wish Thicke nothing but the best, but I'm not going to stand by silently while a guy in a business suit paints all over the sidewalk....so to speak.
DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 09/30/08
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Lost Without You (Remix) ft. Busta Rhymes" (2007)
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