Robin Thicke’s career teeters on the verge of sad cliché, the one in which The Big Hit becomes an albatross. “Lost Without U,” a grown-and-sexy bossa nova, led his second album, The Evolution Of Robin Thicke, to platinum sales, but singing a hit adult-contemporary soul song is like starring in a hit fetish porno—it limits what you can do later. Kudos to Thicke, then, for continuing to shun the safe familiarity of his signature tune. Sex Therapy is certainly not grown, nor particularly sexy, but it’s often great, sometimes because of its lover-boy goofiness, other times in spite of it.
The austere funk of “Make U Love Me” and the title track is cribbed straight from the FutureSex/LoveSounds playbook, but it works for the same reasons. The beats are insistent but not intrusive, the perfect canvas for Thicke’s breathy falsetto and carnal come-ons. But when he breaks from singing, in favor of Nelly-esque melodic chatting, he seems out of his depth; “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy” shines a more flattering light on it-girl Nicki Minaj, a guest star on an album with too many of them. Plus, without the vocal acrobatics, there’s more reason to pay attention to cringe-worthy lyrics like those on “Rollacoasta”: “Hate me in the morning, sex me up at noon / Girl, have me for dinner, baby tease me with your food.” But Thicke makes much of the album fly, especially the opening track, “Mrs. Sexy,” a surprisingly straightforward cover of Eric B. and Rakim’s “Mahogany.” The idea shouldn’t work for anyone, especially the guy known for “Lost Without U.” But this high tolerance for risk is what makes Sex Therapy admirable, even when it isn’t entirely enjoyable.