Album reviews

Robin Thicke, Pet Shop Boys drop dance delights

•  R&B

Robin Thicke, Blurred Lines (Interscope) * * * 

Robin Thicke, the son of actors Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring, can be hard to take. Oft-dismissed as a Justin Timberlake-wannabe, though he has been writing songs since the early ’90s, pre-dating JT, this might explain why his career has simmered on low heat through five albums.

But Blurred Lines, the slightly salacious and infectious first single from his sixth and best album, works its Marvin Gaye Got to Give It Up-styled groove and clanking cowbell so well it’s become this year’s longest-running No. 1 pop single. Blurred Lines is the summer’s best earworm this side of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.

The rest of the album, featuring contributions from ubiquitous Miami producer Pharrell Williams (who also worked on the Daft Punk smash), is just as accessible, immediate and catchy. The set’s almost unbroken string of high-tech dance rhythms makes Blurred Lines a near perfect party album or aerobics class must-have.

Songs like the retro disco-funk of Ain’t No Hat 4 That (imagine Earth, Wind & Fire on holiday on South Beach) mix well with contemporary dance workouts like the buzzy, club-banger Take It Easy on Me.

Two songs depart from the party-hearty vibe. The Good Life is a fond reflection of a life well-lived, set to a tempo that would make for a nice end-of-prom slow dance. But ditch the soggy lone ballad, 4 the Rest of My Life, which recalls the worst of Prince, including the Purple Wonder’s passé and nonsensical numbers-for-words concept. Also try and forgive the swaggering boasting of the Dr. Luke-produced Give It 2 U in which Thicke offers up his “big [rhymes-with-Thicke.]” Do so, and you have the guilt-free, hook-filled, R&B-pop album Timberlake’s labored and tedious The 20/20 Experience should have been this year.

Download: Blurred Lines, Ain’t No Hat 4 That.


Pet Shop Boys, Electric (x2 Recordings/Kobalt) * * * 

At their best, the British dance-pop duo the Pet Shop Boys have managed to pair Brothers Gibb-worthy melodies with wry, heartbreaking observations. On Very, the 1993 album that remains their finest, Neil Tennant sang of the downtrodden with painful candor — “While you pretend not to notice/All the years we’ve been here/We’re the bums you step over/As you leave the theatre” — and turned the Village People’s frothy Go West into a poignant account of acceptance.

Electric, which comes fast on the heels of last year’s lackluster Elysium, isn’t as concerned with lyrical content. If Elysium suffered from a resigned air of finality and led to rumors the Boys were retiring, Electric is its polar opposite: the most club-oriented regular high-NRG album the duo have made in a near 30-year career. The euphoric sound is so bracing and of-the-moment, it’s hard to believe its sonic architects are two middle-aged men who worked the costume-thing and dance floors more than a decade before Parisian duo Daft Punk first donned robot head gear and constructed its dance anthems.

But being the Pet Shop Boys, singer Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe can’t resist some commentary. The best, most-familiar sounding track, Love Is a Bourgeois Construct, deconstructs interpersonal relationships rather well, but the most potent statement is a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s The Last to Die.

As on Go West, Tennant’s delivery finds new meaning. Springsteen’s critical 2007 track lamented the loss of life in the Iraq War. Tennant’s reading suggests a loss of innocence and mourning for a community that has lost much to AIDS and ignorance.

However, the arrangement robs Springsteen’s song of its hook and melody. The relentless beats of tracks like Shouting in the Evening can also feel monochromatic, meaning Electric isn’t a multifaceted album for car play the way earlier standouts like Very, Bilingual or Behaviour were, but it’s the right album for today from two guys who remain competitive and vital.

Download: Love Is a Bourgeois Construct, Thursday.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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