As art goes, Robin Thicke's Paula is less Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear and more the musical equivalent of a Facebook friend who refuses to stop overdoing it on tequila slammers and ranting about the demise of their relationship. It's messy, it's generally grammatically incoherent, it's humiliating for everyone involved. You can’t help but feel for the eponymous Paula (Patton, the actress), Thicke's wife, who's kept an inordinately graceful silence throughout their separation while Thicke's been prostrating himself onstage, sending greenhouses full of flowers, and writing songs that are imaginatively titled "Get Her Back" and "Love Can Grow Back."
As exercises in ostentatious narcissism go, Paula is less Ozymandias and more an overindulgent interview with Oprah, one in which Thicke goes on and on and on about his needs and his desires and his flaws and his blissful memories of drinking wine in the park and being happy without once considering the fact that Patton might not want her marriage dissected over the course of 14 incongruously jaunty songs, or might not particularly enjoy Thicke describing to the world how he likes to remember "your legs on my walls, your body on the ceiling." Although he gives voice to Patton on the record by having backup singers screech lyrics like "I kept trying to tell you you were pushing me too far," she's otherwise an entirely abstract construct around which he winds his sticky strands of mortification. "I was in chains in the rain, lost my soul, now you know," he sings on "Still Madly Crazy," a song that has the Disneyish piano riffs (if not the subtlety and emotional nuance) of a musical theater ballad. "I'm so sorry you had to suffer my lack of self-control. You'd think by now I might have grown."
Thicke, 37 years old and a father, has apparently no compunction about blurting out an endless stream of angsty self-obsession on his newest record, chased with occasional odes to his prowess as a seducer of women. "You're way too young to dance like that in front of a man like me babe," he sings primly in the oddly titled "Love Can Grow Back," before abruptly giving in to whoever's trying to have sex with him. "You know cigarettes are bad for you baby—so am I … With your new nails on your back you'll be scratching my, scratching my itch." (Love might grow back, but sexy fingernails have to be purchased.)
Here's the backstory in miniature of the origins of Paula, for those who might have missed it: The singer, once a geeky, long-haired, Beethoven-sampling bicycle courier, had the biggest hit of his career with 2013’s uber-viral "Blurred Lines," a song that either celebrated women or defined rape culture, depending on your point of view. In the video, a fully clothed Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I. smirked at the camera while three naked models draped themselves artfully over the set; Thicke later proclaimed loudly to the scandalized masses that his wife approved. He also insisted she was supportive when a bikini-clad Miley Cyrus gave him a lap dance during the MTV Video Music Awards, but Paula presumably was less appreciative when a photo emerged showing her husband in a nightclub groping a blonde socialite. Ever the gentleman, he appears to allude to this moment in the song "Something Bad" when he croons the cumbersome line, "Bird flew in my window, took a picture, and left with a naughty tweet."