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Robin Thicke

The Evolution of Robin Thicke (Star Trak/Interscope)

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When he debuted in 2003 on the heels of several new blue-eyed soul men, Robin Thicke sounded like a talented singer without a plan. The son of actor Alan Thicke couldn't decide whether to align himself with the urban present or an R&B past he was too young to remember, and Beautiful World suffered in comparison with those who settled on the former (Justin Timberlake) or the latter (Remy Shand). That made Thicke's evolution a necessary step, achieved by teaming up with Pharrell Williams -- aka Skateboard P -- and occasionally writing outside the box.

Thicke's work with the Neptunes' superproducer invites even more Timberlake comparisons, but this time they should be favorable; the skeletal sound of Evolution reveals the strengths of both singer and material, which tackles such Un-Synclike topics as professional jealousy and drug abuse. "Wanna Love U Girl" pings, pongs, and swings like a Sign o' the Times outtake, while the gently strummed "Lost Without U" makes just as much space for Thicke's heavenly falsetto. When he slips into the past -- the gospel-inspired "Tie My Hands," for example -- the disc becomes more devolution than evolution, but overall, it represents an undeniable and welcome leap forward.

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