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Album reviews for July 3, 2014

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Gazette wire services
July 2, 2014

Robin Thicke, “Paula”

It’s easy to fall in line with the crowd that believes Robin Thicke’s attempt to win back his wife by calling his new album “Paula” is desperate and ridiculous.

In some ways it is.

But if we’re judging strictly on the music—and not on the over-the-top, awkward and somewhat creepy public pleas by Thicke everywhere from the BET Awards to the Billboard Music Awards—Paula Patton might want to reconsider.

The 14-track “Paula,” where Thicke spills his feelings, confesses his sins and insists he’s a changed man, is a return to Thicke’s R&B roots. It is also a reminder that he was a talented, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter pre-“Blurred Lines” hysteria.

The sexy number “You’re My Fantasy” helps the album start on the right foot, and the piano mixed with Thicke’s aching voice on “Still Madly Crazy” is impeccable. “Lock the Door” is dramatic and theatrical, while the horn-heavy “Love Can Grow Back” is a winner.

Thicke ditched the glossy electro beats and catchy hooks on last year’s “Blurred Lines” for a more stripped-down, acoustic and simple sound on “Paula”—a much better fit for the 37-year-old crooner.

“Blurred Lines” made Thicke an international star and helped him tap into a younger audience that constantly streams music, buys digital tracks and can determine today and tomorrow’s next pop star. But the song also has been a bit of a curse: It has pigeon-holed Thicke, propelled him to one-hit-wonder status (despite having success in the past) and alienated the singer from the R&B fans who help him reach platinum status. And the tracks on “Paula” don’t sound like songs that will play on Top 40 radio per se.

“Get Her Back,” the smooth lead single, has yet to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, but the song is still a winner: Even if he doesn’t get Paula back, his old fans will return.

—Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

Lana Del Rey, “Ultraviolence”

First thing you’ll notice about Lana Del Rey’s new album is that, like its predecessor, “Born to Die,” the melancholy “Ultraviolence” is filled with stories about lousy guys and the ladies who love them, accompanied by retro, down-tempo melodies that would be more at home in a Douglas Sirk film than in the present.

Does that mean Lana Del Rey is obvious or tedious? Is Springsteen, when he sings about the working class?

What Del Rey, her septet, and producer Dan Auerbach have done differently is to remove all elements of hip-hop from her self-described “narco-swing” and move to a live, vintage-soundtrack vibe. “Pretty When You Cry,” “Shades of Cool,” and “West Coast” have the feel of Chris Isaak at his best, but with a psychedelic ambience for gauzy measure. In a fragile yet effortlessly breezy voice, Del Rey sings of femmes fatales now willing to dispense with bad men (in “Cruel World” the singer “shared my body and mind with you/that’s all over now”), even if those women slept their way to the top.

Beyond that, “Ultraviolence” is unobvious, contagious music that sounds like nothing else.

—A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mary J. Blige, "Think Like a Man Too—Music From and Inspired by the Film"

Sequels rarely outshine the originals they follow, so perhaps that’s why the team behind the “Think Like a Man” soundtrack decided to do something different with the music for the romantic comedy’s second installment.

Execs ditched the “various artists” formula—although last time it yielded a Grammy-nominated hit with John Legend’s “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)”—and instead put all their faith in a singular artist: Mary J. Blige. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul easily proves herself more than capable of exercising a vocal and emotional range to capture all the ups, downs and misfires one might expect from a movie inspired by Steve Harvey’s best-selling book on relationships.

Harvey would approve Blige’s message on the anthemic “Power Back.” “The more you do that BS, the more I keep it real,” she sings about a wishy-washy lover. “If it’s one thing men respect, it’s when we don’t react.”

Self-assured Blige is serious about commitment, and she says that on the ominous “All Fun and Games,” produced by The-Dream. But for all her tough talking, Blige has a soft side, too.

She finds chemistry in the club on the delicious horn and drum-laced “See That Boy Again,” produced by Pharrell. And she’s aching to be loved “like I’m you, like I’m you, babe,” on “Self Love,” a beautifully grand track, which is easily the soundtrack’s most riveting offering.

—Melanie J. Sims, Associated Press



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