Robin Thicke’s seventh album felt off from the moment word got out that he was making it. When an untitled Thicke album showed up in Interscope’s release schedule, it seemed like an error, since he was still promoting his incredibly successful Blurred Lines LP from the year before. Thicke confirmed the new record was real when he announced that he was naming it after his estranged wife, Paula Patton, and that it would be an album-length attempt to get her back. It even had a lead single called “Get Her Back” —just to make things unmistakably clear.
The setup was intensely weird. But the album itself, when it finally came out, elevated the situation to fully bizarre. That it was even released in the first place is a testament either to Thicke’s industry heft or his label’s blind faith that after “Blurred Lines” people would buy anything he recorded. Paula sounds rushed at best, unfinished at worst, and confused throughout. At times, it’s as brooding and meditative as you expect a breakup record to be—but there’s a manic, delusionally hopeful tone to some of the songs. Its inability to stick to one influence—from Marvin Gaye slow jams to Neptunes-lite hip-hop—for more than a couple minutes doesn’t help Paula cohere. The album’s perplexing qualities are handily summed up in the “Get Her Back” video, where Thicke pleads for the forgiveness of a wife who won’t even speak to him while simultaneously getting felt up by models.
There are a few great divorce albums—Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Gaye’s Here, My Dear among them. But few albums are about a man’s intensely singleminded and thoroughly quixotic quest to win back an estranged lover, and Paula proves why. Hearing him plead to Patton is creepy; at times, he flat-out sounds like a stalker. It’s like watching a man desperately flinging expensive gifts and unkeepable promises at a wronged woman who’s finally decided she’s forgiven him for the last time…but in the form of a record.
That few people wanted to pay money to get on Thicke’s uncomfortable ride wasn’t surprising. Still, the sales numbers shocked: In the US, Paula sold just 30,000 copies. It performed even worse elsewhere; Australia reportedly only sold 54 copies of the record its first week out. In the end, Thicke’s grand gesture turned out to be an album that nobody wanted—especially not Paula.