Channel surfing over the summer, I’d always stop myself to watch the clip for the fitfully sensual R&B joint “Wanna Love U Girl”—“What the fuck is that awkward white guy doing dropping verses over a Pharrell beat?” Never mind the fact that it’s Alan Thicke’s son, Robin—it’s weird enough that Mike Seaver’s kid has a recording career. What’s even stranger is that Robin wields a plate-glass shattering falsetto that should be monitored by the FAA; after dropping A Beautiful World, his who-heard-it 2003 solo disc, Thicke, a Grammy-nominated producer-performer, regrouped, added some high-powered names to his Palm Treo (Faith Evans, Lil Wayne), and is back in a much more visible way with The Evolution of Robin Thicke. Perhaps most surprisingly, Thicke has a keen ear for floating, high-ceiling harmonies that recall not only that other white soul man of the moment, but Prince and Marvin Gaye as well. The production, thankfully, is varied, slick, and interesting; “Lost Without U” glides over a vaguely Spanish rhythm, while “Ask Myself” (the Gaye-est track) slips along an unplugged synco-funk groove. The Pharrell cameo doesn’t exactly enliven the Neptunes-lite “Wanna Love U Girl” (I still think Skateboarder P saved his dopest beat of ‘06 for Luda) and when held against the other 15 tracks here, it stands as one of the weakest. The Evolution of Robin Thicke might be the most surprising R&B-pop record of the year, if only because it easily scales seemingly insurmountable obstacles; child of Hollywood, heretofore unknown, and artist of astonishing talent, Thicke seems to have handled whatever growing pains might’ve afflicted him.
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