Love After War
I give Robin Thicke a great deal of credit for carving out a distinct niche within R&B music. Ever since his career took off, thanks to his sensuous falsetto supplications on “Lost Without U” and the rest of the phenomenal Evolution of Robin Thicke album, Thicke songs have been unmistakable to the ear. That being said, I’ve had reservations about placing him amongst the genre’s upper-echelon artists. ‘Robin Thicke, you can’t take him that seriously, especially lyrically: one of his biggest hits is entitled “Sex Therapy,” for god’s sake,’ I had always thought. Until I listened to his latest album, Love After War, which delves deeper into verbal poignancy and delivers on enriching his discography.
Thicke branches out in this album but does not neglect his tried and true. “I Don’t Know How It Feels To Be You” represents the most signature Thicke sound – the track is laced with that pleading, delicate falsetto voice we’ve come to love. Robin draws inspiration for this track, and much of the album, from his romantic relationship with his wife, the lovely actress Paula Patton. Thicke proceeds in a dutiful, apologetic manner throughout the song. “Though I try to learn your steps, I don’t know what makes you dance, I don’t know what turns your gray skies back to blue,” expressing how even amidst mutual love and affection, those dear to us can still remain enigmatic.
“Love After War” applies further paint to the canvas of Thicke’s marriage, describing how discord can suddenly transition to intimacy. “Please forgive me baby,” he appeals. “I was out of line, you know I can make it right, don’t you love it when we fight?” He continues, remarking, “When we go we go so hard, it only makes me want you more.” We get the impression that not everything about Thicke’s marriage is perfect, and that’s okay. With a healthy dose of passion, fleeting anger will, indeed, must, lead to amour.
Love After War could not be labeled R&B without a track like “Mission,” the most classic, smooth-sounding offering on the album. “It’s good to be back, back in your arms,” Thicke croons. “Here with my baby, right where I belong.” It’s a damn good, sexy song. What more is there to say? Thicke successfully abandons his stylistic conventions and loses himself on “Cloud 9,” a slow and easy blues melody. “I’m just trying to get by,” Thicke rambles soulfully. “I’m doin’ just fine, sittin’ here livin’ on cloud nine.” The thoughtful guitar accompaniment reminds me of relaxing tones orchestrated in the mode of jazz legend Kenny Burrell.
Finally, the album twists in a third direction, as Thicke for the first time in his music addresses current social and political issues. “The New Generation,” implicitly observing the uprisings of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, proves that Thicke can convincingly tackle topics beyond the bedroom. The song repeats the powerful refrain “we believe,” insisting, “We want to see our children live better than you and me.” Thicke seems genuine in pressing for social activism, not shying away from potentially controversial lyrics. “Shout your national anthem for all your countrymen died in vain,” he belts out. If Thicke’s voice was not sufficient by itself, the track’s fantastic trumpet parts will have you marching your feet in no time.
Thicke employs peppy orchestration a la George Gershwin/Leonard Bernstein as a compliment to “The New Generation” on the powerful anthem, “Never Give Up.” The bright brass beginning leads into woodwinds, which lead into the string section, and finally the entire orchestra, culminating on the forte chorus sung by Thicke, “Never give up!” While you might have “lost your heart” or your will, Thicke insists, even if you have “lost your faith and your confidence,” you have to persevere. Although the lyrics don’t state it outright, the collective implication from the album is that no matter what struggles you face, love will keep you going. On Love After War, Robin Thicke proves he can produce a poignant social message in addition to a sultry slow jam. I’m all ears.