The Breakdown: Robin Thicke's 'Paula' influences, by the numbers

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Image Credit: Harper Smith

Earlier this week, Robin Thicke released his seventh LP, Paula, just shy of a year after his last album, Blurred Lines. It’s been an eventful year for Thicke: “Blurred Lines” finally broke him with the mainstream American audience he had been courting relentlessly for a decade, his image has grown more salacious (helped out by his breakout single’s nudity-filled video and his on-stage freaking of Miley Cyrus at last year’s VMAs), and his wife of nearly nine years, Paula Patton, left him, apparently for reasons stemming from these developments.

As its title suggests, Paula is an album-length examination of their estrangement, as well as a pitch to convince Patton to reconcile. It’s the kind of flop-sweaty grand gesture that men have long been making when their partners finally get fed up with their nonsense, on an epic scale. A forgiving critic might call it “deeply personal,” but so far it’s mostly been called creepy and invasive, not to mention fundamentally flawed and misguided.

After the jump we’ll dig through this mess and figure out what it’s made from.

46% Marvin Gaye
Paula has been compared in some circles to classic breakup records like Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, the latter in particular since Paula works a similarly soulful sound and also because Thicke’s been accused of lifting elements of Marvin’s “Got to Give It Up” for “Blurred Lines.” The difference between Paula and Here, My Dear is that the former is an attempt to mend a broken relationship while the latter is a bitter, cynical postmortem (Gaye recorded it as part of a divorce settlement), and while both are incredibly messy records, Marvin’s is at least fascinatingly so.

10% Bill Withers
While Marvin Gaye’s spirit hovers over Paula as a whole, its individual songs each concentrate on a different influence. “Lock the Door,” for instance, borrows liberally from “Use Me,” one of the hits from Bill Withers’s essential 1972 album Still Bill.

4% Incredible Bongo Band
The muted disco thump of “Whatever I Want” makes it one of Paula‘s better tracks. Its heavy usage of hand drums suggests that Thicke’s emulating the frequently-sampled Incredible Bongo Band, as does its main riff’s similarity to Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Davita,” which the group famously covered.

11% LCD Soundsystem
The cowbell-heavy beat to “Blurred Lines” suggested the influence of James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem, as did the “woke up in this suit after a long night” look Thicke rocked in the video. Writing a song about New York City with a claustrophobically tight disco instrumental track, like Thicke did with “Living in New York City” is also an incredibly Murphy-ish move, as is the distressed electronic beat on “Too Little Too Late.”

9% James Brown
“Living in New York City” also boasts Thicke’s best attempt at a James Brown impression whose badness can only be erased by listening to the real deal.

12% Frank Sinatra
Thicke goes Sinatra mode a couple times over the record’s course, on the creepy, Miley-referencing intro to “Love Can Grow Back,” and on the weirdly upbeat penultimate track “Time of Your Life,” which would probably feel out of place if all of Paula‘s songs didn’t feel the same way.

8% Antonio Carlos Jobim
The influence of Brazilian bossa nova maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim’s delicate guitar style pops up on several tracks, the most surprising and satisfying influence on a strange and scattered album.

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