If you feel like you’ve heard of Robin Thicke but can’t exactly place the name, there’s good reason for that. In 2002, his Beethoven’s 5th-sampling ‘When I Get You Alone‘ was one of the best debut singles any artist could hope for and even a dweeby turn as a bike courier in its video couldn’t diminish the glow around the kid from Los Angeles. And then, promptly, he fell off the face of the earth. But not for want of trying not to. Between 2003’s ‘A Beautiful World’ and 2011’s ‘Love After War’, he released three more LPs, taking his tally to 5 and yet, even for those who like to keep a close eye on these things, Thicke (that’s the name he recorded under until introducing Robin in 2005) barely caused ripples in the music industry. Or at least not compounding ripples. Every once in a while, a Polow Da Don-produced track would catch on or an opening slot on a Beyonce UK tour would convert into some chart success but more often, the multi-talented Thicke (singer-songwriter, producer, composer, actor) would be toiling away for limited return. He wrote good stuff for others – ‘Tie My Hands‘ is one of the most heartfelt and resonant tracks on Lil Wayne’s spectacular ‘The Carter III’ and he even made it to Australia, writing ‘Out With My Baby‘ for season 1 Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian – but couldn’t make the leap to his own, solo career.
Until now. I don’t know if Thicke, now 36, got some sort of brand manager or product stylist in on ‘Blurred Lines’, the first track we’re hearing from his sixth album due out at the end of this year, but the mere fact that we’re hearing it at all suggests that he did. The first thing to notice about ‘Blurred Lines’ is the video clip that accompanies it. The video, which has already racked up 10 million hits (surpassing in a month the 7.5 million that it took his most recent ‘hit’, ‘Sex Therapy’ 3 years to accomplish), is a triumph of visual imagery, all pastel colours, dancing Pharrells and dancing babes. And that’s before I saw the version that YouTube banned. As far as ploys to get your name back in lights go, featuring six bare boobs in your big video clip debut is definitely up there. The mesmerising nature of the Neptunes-produced beat (ascending ‘hey-hey-hey-heys’ and a cowbell/snare/handclap that is impossible to dislodge from your short-term memory) is enhanced (perhaps debatably) by some of the least glamourised, most natural nudity pop culture has seen in a while. The media ruckus that will accompany the growing popularity of this unrated version will undeniably help put Thicke’s name back up in lights (if not balloons) but this seems to be a case of a song second on the food chain to a video idea.
Boobs aside (and that is no simple feat), the video will inevitably overshadow a song that, for all intents and purposes, could be the second biggest song of Thicke’s career. Where Pharrell has somehow parlayed his career into becoming a cultural icon over the last few years, it’s easy to forget that when he produces well, as he often does alongside Neptunes wingman Chad Hugo, the results can be breathtakingly good. There is almost nothing to ‘Blurred Lines’ (and that shows, in part, by the fact that when T.I. arrives on the scene with a verse slinkier than most we’ve heard from him in a while, we are thankful for his interruption) and that is Neptunes magic. Where in the hands of lesser producers the sparse soundscape and arbitrary yelps would come off haphazard and weak, The Neptunes have a way of making even the most pedestrian of beats pop. And pop is what Thicke has to do if he is to come anywhere close to rivaling his long-time adversary Justin Timberlake in the white-guys-doing-RnB stakes. Even though he is older, less charming and far less renowned than the former Mouseketeer, Thicke has been doing the debonair thing that JT just handily picked up for his ‘Suit & Tie‘ phase for years and the lyrics on this one (‘What rhymes with hug me?’) are more memorable than anything on ‘Mirrors‘. This song is a winner on all fronts – suave, simple and sexy in equal measure – but needs to be repeated and expanded upon sans tits if Thicke is to rock us like it’s 2002 again.
Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines Ft. T.I., Pharrell