These days it seems as if just about every celebrity couple is plastering the breakups of their personal relationships all over cyberspace and whatever TV tabloid show will take it. On the other hand,in the hands of a soul/funk artist with a strong degree of wordly eloquence? This dichotomy can transform itself into a level of lyricism that can be far more flexible than singing about mere romantic turmoil. Otis Redding’s “Respect”,especially in the hands of Aretha Franklin,is probably the best known example of this. Earlier this year? Robin Thicke,on the heals of the enormously successful collaboration with Pharrell Williams on the musically controversial “Blurred Lines”,abruptly separated from his wife of nearly a decade Paula Patton. Somewhat out of nowhere as far as I was concerned? Thicke dropped a new album this past week which,interestingly enough is called Paula. Many of its songs were highly invigorating uptempo funk of many grooving shades. However one particular song stuck out in my mind called “Whatever I Want”.
The song begins with a group vocal fanfare somewhat similar to the intro to Stevie Wonder’s “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me” before launching into an uptempo groove that chugs along like a runaway freight train. Helping it along is a very thick Afro-Latin percussive groove that just keeps on going with the basic rhythm. Meanwhile a bassy electric piano is playing a soulful,bluesy melody whose descending chord changes of the school of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”. A female vocal choir comes on declaring “I can do whatever I want”-with Thicke’s call and response vocals of the same,often adding the phrase “freedom” as well. He also declares that “Now that the pain and regret have moved along/ Now that you finally have some piece of mind/Who knows what buried treasure you might find”. After the female choir chants “kiss me” repeatly on the next chorus? An instrumental break comes in after which the song fades out with the same electric piano sound from the intro.
Considering the controversy of last years “Blurred Lines” focused on plagiarism regarding Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”? It’s somewhat ironic that Robin’s entire new album concept for Paula is conceptually inspired by Gaye’s confessional Here,My Dear. The difference is this album and this song of Thicke’s doesn’t take the “dear diary” approach of naming names and events on the same level Gaye had. There is however a division here. The groove on this song includes the important funk process element of the Afrocentric percussion. Yet melodically this song is deeply based in the straight up blues as well. Being those two are vital building blocks of funk? They both express the divided feelings Thicke is expression. The percussive polyrhythms have always represented freedom-a celebration of life. While the blues has tended to be the more realist story teller,and the dreamer as well. Robin Thicke is alternately celebrating he and Paula’s freedom while questioning it on this song. Exciting,singable,funky and emotionally complex in the classic bluesy soul/funk tradition is a good way to describe what this groove serves up to the listener!