ROBIN THICKE “Paula”
Universal, 2 stars
Does Robin Thicke creep you out? No matter how you felt about the Canadian R&B singer after he broke big last year with the blithe “Blurred Lines” — and seemed all too happy to have Miley Cyrus twerk on him at the MTV awards — chances are you’ll be put off by the skeevy aspects of “Paula.” It’s an album with a clear goal in mind: To “Get Her Back,” as its first single puts it, “her” being his onetime high school sweetheart and now estranged wife, actress Paula Patton, from whom he split earlier this year.
In a celebrity-obsessed culture driven by seemingly insatiable curiosity about what stars are doing behind closed doors, “Paula” manages the difficult task of crossing the “too much information” threshold. It’s more than any but the most pruriently curious could want to know. At times, Thicke is stalkerlike (on “Lock The Door”); at other times his tone is cluelessly off (on the goofy “Tippy Toes”). Mostly, with tracks such as “Too Little Too Late” and “Something Bad”, he’s abjectly guilt-ridden in a way that’s not entirely convincing. The context makes you want to listen, but you’ll feel dirty once you have.
— Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
MARY GAUTHIER “Trouble and Love”
In The Black, 3½ stars
On the title song of “Trouble and Love,” Mary Gauthier confesses to having “a heart full of hurt.” Does she ever. But heartache can be a powerful muse, and a writer who has always cut close to the bone does so again as she chronicles the wrenching aftermath of a romantic breakup.
As usual, Gauthier (Go-SHAY) builds her power through understatement. She sings terse and searingly precise lyrics in an almost soothing Louisiana drawl as the songs, set to sparse arrangements, unfold at a leisurely pace. “You sit there in the rubble till the rubble feels like home,” she sings on “How You Learn to Live Alone.” The track “Another Train” concludes this intensely focused song cycle on a hopeful, if not necessarily happy, note that feels as real as everything that has come before.
— Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer
CHICAGO “Now: XXXVI”
Frontiers/Universal, 3 stars
Chicago has been much in evidence lately. They collaborated with Robin Thicke on January’s Grammy telecast. They appeared in Larry David’s outrageous HBO flick “Clear History” (in which every girlfriend of David’s character had relations with several band members). At the very least, the brassy R&B/jazz outfit has finally outrun the ghost of the ‘80s power-ballad sound foisted on it by the legendarily lame Peter Cetera.
On “Now: XXXVI,” cofounders Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane and some newer Chicagoans sound closer to their rough roots than they have since their first albums. The CD’s arrangements may not be quite as raunchy or contagious as “25 or 6 to 4,” but cuts like “Free at Last” come close in punch and gruffness, with a nod to Chicago’s psychedelic start on “Another Trippy Day.” While maintaining its robust brass sound (those trombones!), Chicago hasn’t forgotten the luster of its harmony vocals (“This is the Time” could be disco-era Bee Gees) or the rich romanticism of a good slow song.
The first 10 Chicago albums set the gold standard for blue-eyed, big-band rock-and-soul. “Now” sounds like Chicago wants that feeling back.
— A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer