A heavy emphasis on sex isn't exactly a unique approach in R&B. The very nature of the genre, in fact, evokes sexual imagery perhaps more than any other - hell, songs like Ginuwine's Pony absolutely ooze it, and that's a large part of what makes them so great. Occasionally however, some artists will overshoot in their attempts to be sexy, which makes the aim painfully obvious and renders the effort an utter failure. Justin Timberlake's Future Sex/Love Sounds is a perfect example of this; past the fact that this album was good almost entirely because of Timbaland's production, Timberlake has absolutely no real charisma. And when he's constantly talking about sex over the course of a twelve song LP (with the exception of downright embarrassing attempts to make statements, like Losing My Way), it just begins to look over the top and silly. A number of male R&B vocalists have fallen prey to this misstep, but Robin Thicke is one who has never had this problem. Which is all the more impressive now, because his latest, Sex Therapy, is completely devoted to it.
Sex Therapy could have very easily ended up an awkwardly forced record like Future Sex/Love Sounds did at times, but Thicke, armed with some excellent beats that range from seventies soul to modern day hip-hop, pulls it off splendidly. His confidence and charm, something that has been evident since his breakthrough hit When I Get You Alone, shines through from genuinely seductive tracks like Make U Love Me and Start with a Kiss to playful and even goofy ones; Meiplé, which features Jay-Z, is a silly but simultaneously endearing idealistically romantic ode to women. It's a real testament to his charisma that he can get away with lines like "I can pay for acting lessons, you'll become a movie star and make more than me, babe." From most other singers, it would sound completely ridiculous, but Thicke's knowing and fun delivery makes it clear that he's taking his lyrics maybe half-seriously, at best. Another good example of this is the exotic sounding I Got U, which starts out with blatant references to clichéd aphrodisiacs. The song is built around a woman visiting with him as a doctor, presumably dispensing the sex therapy the album's title promises. In the middle, she says "My man don't take me nowhere!" and he responds, "ah... I have just the thing for that." In that pause, you can almost feel him giving that comical, fourth wall breaking look to the listener, like "oh yeah, I'm gonna bang this broad." When he does cut loose and really sing though, he shows that he truly is one of the best of his kind today; his falsettos on Million Dolla Baby and Elevatas in particular (even his amusing Michael Jackson-esque "woo"s in the latter) sound fantastic, showcasing his rich, expansive voice but also understating more than enough to keep from overdoing it.
As mentioned earlier, the beats are a huge part of why this album is a success as well, particularly in their eclecticism. Cuts like Jus Right and Mona Lisa have a tropical, calypso-esque feel to them, which are starkly different from but still fit in well with, say, Rollacoasta, which has a throbbing, synth heavy funk to it and a catchy hook that could stand next to the Gap Band's best. Speaking of hooks, while Thicke hasn't come anywhere near his first hit, he still hits paydirt here. His vocal melodies on Meiplé, for instance, are outstanding, as they are on It's in the Morning, which features Snoop Dogg and should be completely generic: it's a song praising morning sex in the typical slo-jam style, but the melodies and silliness of the lyrics make it quite appealing. Other big standouts are the neo-soulful Mrs. Sexy, and the glitchy, futuristic hip-hop of Shakin' It 4 Daddy with Nick Minaj.
Sex Therapy is the kind of album that most R&B artists wish they could make. It's fun, playful, and even authentically sexy without ever falling into the pitfalls of taking itself too seriously (or not seriously enough, for that matter). Much like how Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds approached their Murder Ballads album, Robin Thicke is very blatant with how he tackles the subject matter, but at the same time keeps a good sense of humor about himself, and this could well be the album's greatest strength. A great way to close out the year for R&B.