The Evolution of Robin Thicke
The story goes that the very happening Pharrell Williams asked music mogul and Interscope president Jimmy Iovine about his plans for Robin Thicke and then quickly snatched the artist up for his Star Trak imprint. Pharrell's enthusiasm for Thicke -- suave son of squeaky-clean celebrities Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring -- suggests he's one of the few who purchased his Interscope debut, 2002's Cherry Blue Skies, which was relaunched a year later as Beautiful World before fading into obscurity. While Thicke returned to his successful career as a songwriter and producer -- Christina Aguilera and Usher are just two of his many clients -- a cult formed around his debut. In 2005, there was both the Star Trak announcement and Lil Wayne's reinterpretation of Beautiful World's "Oh Shooter" for his 2005 release Tha Carter, Vol. 2, but the promised Thicke album that would reap the benefits was delayed, then delayed some more, and the cult got worried. Finally landing almost a year after originally promised, The Evolution of Robin Thicke is flawed with too much softness upfront, a lazy flow that takes some getting used to, and a downright awful track called "Cocaine," where style trumps substance, something that nearly happens the whole album through. Still, none of this means Thicke's sophomore effort shouldn't be embraced by those who appreciate his slightly eccentric take on slick blue-eyed neo-soul, because he's still mostly Timberlake for the skeptical set, or Prince for those who pine for the Purple One's over-stylized side project, the Family. Like old-school Prince, Thicke replaces every "you" with a "U," every "for" with a "4," and peppers his dreamy, sensual seduction numbers with brash and horny stingers. The bossa nova noir "Teach U a Lesson" feels comfortable and safe before Thicke's professor character explains how his student can "earn some extra credit," while "All Night Long" with Lil Wayne escalates from "All night long I wait 4 your lovin' babe" to "All night long I wait 2 tear U 2 pieces." Hardcore Southern baller Lil Wayne's two appearances -- the other being the return of his great "Shooter" -- are just one of the oddball genre-jumps the mostly neo-soul album makes, with Latin congas spicing up "Everything I Can't Have" while fingersnaps and jazzy arrangements play a big role in the sophisticated "Complicated." Over-indulgence and whims are all over the album, but perfectly polished pop tracks like "Wanna Love U Girl" and the surprisingly straightforward, empowerment-minded ballad "Can U Believe" succeed without any quirks. There isn't anything as instantly gripping as his debut single, "When I Get You Alone," and this fascinating effort just isn't tight enough to be called a classic, but with a little editing, rearranging, and forgiveness, his rabid following can sure love it like one.