A Beautiful World
Nu Amerika/ Interscope/ Universal Music Group
Robin Thicke is a singer-songwriter who’s usually filed under R&B. Before and since he decided that if Justin Timberlake could have a successful solo-career as a blue eyed soul artist than he could too, goddamnit, he helped pen songs for among others Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and Usher and even a would-be hit for Michael Jackson (The Jacko song he co-wrote with adult-contemporary shtickmaster Walter Afanasieff is called Fall Again and was supposed to be featured on his 2001 album Invincible but wasn’t finished for reasons unknown to me. In 2004 a demo however was released on a MJ boxset while a less significant R&B singer from Canada named Glen Lewis recorded his version of the song and released it on the soundtrack of the Jennifer Lopez film Maid in Manhattan in 2002. If you’d like to hear Thick’s interpretation of this song. Go listen to Kenny G’s version, although off course it does off course feature the superative of cheesy sax, but that’s Kenny’s bread and butter.) Armed with these credentials and a voice that sounds like Mr. Thicke is JT’s long lost brother who shared a larynx with him at birth, he and co-producer Pro J got it cracking in the studio after André Harrell signed him to his Nu Amerika subsidiary of Insterscope. He then slabbed an artfully nude picture of his beautiul girlfriend, now wife, Paula Patton, on the album cover, just because he could. Today I will listen to that album which was actually a re-release of his 2002 album Cherry Blue Skies with a few extra songs and a different sequencing. Why Cherry Blue Skies was released, then deleted from the catalog and then re-released with a different title I don’t know. Maybe someone at Interscope Records/ Nu Amerika realized Cherries actually aren’t blue. It certainly didn’t help the album sell any copies and for my money seems like a pretty pointless move. What I do know is that Pharrell signed him to his Star Trak label a few years after this puppy tanked and left him mostly alone in the studio to craft his 2006 sophomore The Evolution of Robin Thicke. I think he made this decision mostly based on listening to A Beautiful World and that’s why I’m curious about it. Also, this was by no means a bad business move on Pharrell’s part because since signing with his label Robin had been a pretty successful artist.
One difference between Justin and Thicke is that Thicke on occasion actually has a somewhat original musical idea while Justin exclusively does updates of his idols Michael Jackson and Prince while coasting along on his producers Timbaland and Pharrel’s hipness. Shooter doesn’t sound like anything in 2003’s contemporary R&B. Its hiphop influences are confined to the occasional scratching and… violent lyrics. Anyway, the guitars and keys used make this decisively retro-sounding and the build-up ending in the climactic sounds of actual gunfire give this a cinematic edge. Thicke’s vocal sounds stoned out of its mind throughout which adds to the surreal feel of it all. His distorted vocal during the breakdown sounds a lot more animated which creates a nice contrast. Shooter is interesting, fresh and a rather enjoyable affair. Thicke apparently liked the song so much he reprised it on his sophomore album The Evolution of Robin Thicke released on Pharrell’s Star Trak label in 2006. In an effort not to piss off one of the four people who had listened to A Beautiful World (those people apparently being Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and me) he asked the most en vogue rapper of the moment, Lil Wayne to add some raps where there were vocal voids in the song. No wait that’s wrong. Weezy apparently jacked Shooter wholesale for his Tha Carter II album, Thicke’s vocals included, only to add some meh verses and some ad-libs that detracted from the overall equation. With that version becoming far more popular than the original Thicke had little choice but to put it on his sophomore. Still, the solo version included on A Beautiful World is much more compact and pleasant to listen to.
2. A Beautiful World
The sparse use of an electronic piano and little else help highlight the simple beauty of Thicke’s falsetto in a spacy, Prince-ly way. Now if it weren’t for those clunky pretentious bullshit lyrics this would be rather enjoyable.
3. Suga Mama
Songs about the opposite sex are abundant but never redundant because people will always give a fuck. (No pun intended) The instrumental is groovy enough in a Neptunes produced track taken from Justified manner. The vocal however, while technically being pretty decent, sounds so much like the purple one (especially during the falsetto bit) that this comes off as wholly unoriginal. Alas, Thicke can get lost in imitation as much as Justin. And no this does not contradict my statements made about Shooter because those comments were ment to be applied to that song only.
4. Flowers in Bloom
Spacy, scratchy sound effects, a simple guitar line mixed into the background so effectively you can barely hear it and a bit too much Justin-ishness for my taste. On a strictly musical level this doesn’t make me want to give up on listening to A Beautiful World and use it as a Frisbee in stead but it is not very exciting.
5. When I Get You Alone
The first single off A Beautiful World and the only one to chart as far as I know. Walter Murphy and his Big Apple Band discofied Ludwig von Beethoven’s 1808 Fifth Symphony and labeled it A Fifth of Beethoven, which was included on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack in ’77. Producer Ty Fyffe sampled that track for young rapper A+’s 1997 hit Enjoy Yourself and here Thicke jacks that instrumental wholesale to land his dorky lyrics in a stuttery delivery on. (I mean… “Baby girl, you’re the shit. That makes you my equivalent.” The fuck?) That line, delivered without any sense of irony whatsoever, could make even R. Kelly blush. This was the first single and as far as I know the only one that got any airplay anywhere. The fact that this wasn’t a hit in the English-speaking world doesn’t surprise me one bit. Although songs with even nerdier come-ons have made their way to the charts (like anything Katy Perry has done. Ever.)
6. The Stupid Things
I’ll give Thicke this much credit. His imitations of soul and sincerity are soulful and sincere. Even on this boring-as-fuck adult contemporary R&B-ballad.
7. I’m a Be Alright
This tries to be the indie-rock-tinged funky party song and isn’t too annoying for what it is. The song’s positive message would help this go down if the lyrics were more comprehensible. I think I heard Thicke’s slightly distorted vocal sing something about pouring champagne over himself which is a stupid thing to do. If you’re going to pour bubbly over anyone it’d better be the hottie with the black lingerie underneath the white outfit… Anyway it’s highly likely he never said that shit in the first place. Can’t tell what he did say… Moving on.
8. Brand New Jones
The second and last single. Except for that he shouldn’t have waited until right before the fade-out before letting the horns to kick in this song isn’t half bad. The music is p-funky. The stuttery singing complete with Jacko-esque vocal tics is appropriately and adequately performed and the lyrics, unless you hear “some like to get peed on” rather than “some like to keep heat on” like some jackass commenting on this song’s youtube video did (although it wasn’t that far-fetched), aren’t too corny or R. Kelly ridiculous. Well played sir!
9. Vengas Conmigo
The mandatory gimmicky Latin-styled track of which every artist in the early 2000s included a version on their respective albums because they thought that’d give them some much needed appeal to the worldwide Hispanic community and make them sound extremely exotic to white people. This doesn’t suck or sound that out-of-place on A Beautiful World is an achievement of sorts. Still not that good a song though.
More blatant Prince imitating going on here. This time it’s his funk-rockier side that gets jacked.
11. Make a Baby
This reminded me of the Beatles because if it’s overly simple poppiness but since I haven’t heard a lot of the Beatles’ catalog I couldn’t tell you what period or what song this is similar to. Also there may be another artist who might make for a better comparison. Fuckit. I don’t care… I’m more of a Stones guy anyway. The hook is pretty awful but otherwise this won’t piss anoybody off.
12. She’s Gangsta
No, Thicke does not give busting rhymes a try. In stead we get another Prince rip-off that sounds like Justin Timberlake is singing it in the vein of Flex.
13. Lazy Bones
More funkish, indie rock stuff. This style seems to suit Thicke well enough even if it is not my cup of tea.
14. Cherry Blue Skies
I fucking hate these social commentary songs. Honestly, why do these little pop stars insist on trying to change the world through their music? Even when Michael Jackson does that it pisses me off… But if I pay no asttention to the lyrics I suppose this one gets a pass.
Shooter, Brand New Jones
Thicke’s A Beautiful World is too an gimmicky album by someone who isn’t a gimmicky artist per se. That he has a talent for making music cannot be denied, even by a cynical asshole such as myself. He has a nice singing voice, although one that’s very much reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s and a falsetto that at one point sounds identical to Prince’s which is both an achievement of some kind and something that prevents the songs on which he uses it from really taking off. On here he also shares with JT a tendency to write horrible corny lyrics. Really awful would be poetry that will give you nightmares. The best example of which would be When I Get You Alone’s second verse. Still, the fact that Thicke produced the entirety of this fucker with partner in crime Pro J, and doesn’t do half bad a job imitating earlier generations of soul singers (mostly Prince) is admirable. As is the fact that there’s only one song on here that sounds a lot like the Neptunes’ take on mr. Nelson Rogers, which was the flavor of the month at the time. All Thicke needs in my opinion is some original ideas and he’ll probably make some thoroughly enjoyable music. I don’t see him making a timeless classic ever but that’s not necessarily a problem. And who knows? Maybe he’ll prove me wrong. A Beautiful World doesn’t contain anything cacophonic (I’ve always thought there’s no better word for shitty sounding than cacophonic!) so that’s nice. And I definitely will get at The Evolution of Robin Thicke in the near future.
If you see this album in the discount section for a few bucks, euro’s or rubles, by all means go for it. You’ll get two songs that are quite excellent and lots of filler that’ll make for some fun, funky, light background music which won’t impair your conversation with that cutie on the hypothetical house party where you could be playing this. You should not however sit down and pay close attention to A Beautiful World as I did because it just isn’t that kind of album. Beautiful World won’t raise your blood pressure too much unless you look for thought-through, well written lyrics and originality in music specifically. But don’t go spend large sums of money on this because it’s not worth it.
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