To understand what Robin Thicke has accomplished with his new album, it’s best to begin at the end.
“Life takes you up and down/And life spins you all around,” Thicke sings on ebullient closer The Good Life.
It’s a sweet, simple sentiment, and one illustrating the decade Thicke has spent toiling on the margins with a smattering of almost-successes, before his breakout pop smash Blurred Lines liberated him from the shadows earlier this year.
The 36-year-old Canadian native has come close before — the 2006 single Lost Without U was briefly ubiquitous — but with Blurred Lines, Thicke rocketed to the forefront of the pop cultural conversation, an overnight sensation 10 years in the making.
More impressively, he did so in a year where Justin Timberlake, AWOL for the past six years, released a new album, The 20/20 Experience, touted as indispensable. (It absolutely is not.)
Thicke, likewise gifted with a staggering falsetto, forged ahead where Timberlake fizzled, delivering the record, Thicke’s sixth overall, of his career.
While it’s reductive to draw a straight line between the two men, it’s also instructive. Put it this way: Thicke leaned back; Timberlake leaned in.
Blurred Lines, which takes its title from the inescapable track of the same name also serving as the album opener, is a near-perfect summer record, full of good feeling, style to burn and songs demanding repeated listens.
Working with top-shelf producers like Pharrell Williams (who’s having a monster 2013), Dr. Luke and Timbaland, the album is a wonderland of insistent beats, infectious hooks and Thicke’s sex appeal, suffusing every song like humidity. Even when he’s crooning a tender ballad like 4 the Rest of My Life, there’s a palpable heat.
Indeed, he can lay the raunch on a little thick; a few lines in Take It Easy on Me, Give It 2 U and Feel Good will raise the hackles of those who found Blurred Lines to be too “rapey.”
Yet, failing to precisely calibrate his frank lyrics for the undoubtedly larger audience that will discover Thicke through Lines is the only evident misstep.
The record is otherwise faultless — a shimmering collection of dance floor-ready pop and R&B, delivered with panache — and an accomplishment the indefatigable Thicke can rightly be proud of.