As Robin Thicke continues to build his catalogue, he’s done a notable job of showing different sides of himself and therefore growing his base with each release. Respectively, he made one for the cool kids, one for the ladies, one for the label and with Sex Therapy, one for the clubs. Through it all, he doesn’t seem to have compromised himself in any particular way, making the diversity more of a testament to his skills as a songwriter than a forced attempt to move units.
At first glance, Thicke is going further out on the limb than his newest fans—e.g. your mom—will be prepared for. Robin and friends make sure to earn the Parental Advisory sticker, and even songs that start out innocently get dirty quickly. “Rollacoasta” (with Estelle) lures you in with a light dance-y vibe then pulls the rug out with a thinly veiled metaphor (if you can even call it that) for rough sex. “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy” stands in stark contrast to the sensitive lover from “Lost Without U,” but for those who aren’t offended by the premise of Robin and Nicki Minaj’s new strip-club anthem, there’s nothing to complain about because he still feels perfectly natural.
With that said, not all of the collaborations are really necessary. Snoop Dogg’s (likely freestyled) appearance on “It’s In the Mornin” is more funny than sexy—he doesn’t really hurt anything but he doesn’t add much either. The same could perhaps be said for Game on “Diamonds,” who, despite doing a better job of staying on message than Snoop, feels a little brusque on the smooth, uplifting tribute to Thicke’s favorite women. Kid Cudi’s spot on “Elevatas” feels a little shaky at first as well, but once the varied elements of the beat and vocals come together a few bars in, it works well enough.
While Sex Therapy will catch recent converts off guard, in a lot of ways, the album is actually a lot closer to his earliest Jesus-hair-and-a-bike days than his best known efforts. “Mrs. Sexy” and “Meiple” (with Jay-Z) showcase the playful side of Thicke that he slightly neglected on the last two LPs. As always, he goes into full Marvin mode one good time with “Million Dollar Baby,” and as always, the imitation is done well enough that it’s hard to criticize. Unfortunately, another Thicke staple pops up as well in the form of a handful of ballads that amble around the end, though none of them are bad so much as uninspiring.
Every artist eventually releases his “drastic departure” album, but only the best ones are able to do so in a way that feels smart and comfortable instead of misguided and forced. The club-ready production might be an atypical backdrop for Thicke, but if you know where to look for it, Sex Threapy is still all about Robin and his favorite things—sex, black women and Marvin Gaye. He may have chosen a different way than usual to express those things but it’s still his expression. Some may wonder if the Oprah set will still like him but yeah, they probably will—they just won’t discuss it as much in polite company.