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Through Thicke and Tim

Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake face off -- again

Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake need to stop meeting like this. People are starting to get suspicious.

Ever since in-demand pop songwriter Robin Thicke and former 'N Syncer Justin Timberlake began their respective solo careers, their albums can't stop bumping into each other. Thicke saw his debut album A Beautiful World pushed back from its 2002 fall release date to the following spring, when it looked like his collection of blue-eyed soul would be swallowed whole by Timberlake's monster-of-a-debut, Justified. Thicke's second album, The Evolution of Robin Thicke, was also postponed. It finally got released last month -- weeks after Timberlake released his second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds.

Just as expected, people have been gobbling up Timberlake's FutureSex, full of club bangers that are sweat-inducing enough to make everyone forget about his going out like a backpedaling beeyotch after he aided in the exposing of Janet Jackson's titty at the 2004 Super Bowl. So why do I find Thicke's album to be the more appealing and focused of the two?

Unlike World, which had him sounding like everyone from Marvin Gaye to The Beatles to Jamiroquai except himself, Evolution is exactly that. Thicke, who co-produced the album, presents himself as a clean-cut, MOR soulster, the kind of guy who probably had Curtis Mayfield in his Walkman as a youngster.

He starts off Evolution in a witty fashion. The opening song, "Got 2 Be Down," with Faith Evans, serves as both a come-hither ditty and a tongue-in-cheek declaration of his own white-boy aspirations. But the low-impact, adult-contemporary R&B of Evolution mostly shows off how confident and distinctive Thicke has gotten this time around. He's became a performer who's not afraid to make a kinky, baby-making number complete with lyrics that verge on being comical ("Teach U A Lesson" has to be the only tune to make WMDs a part of bedroom talk) or to tickle the ivories and give a sensitive, soft-spoken shout-out to his lady, like he's a light-light-skinned Lionel Richie. Thicke is officially his own man on Evolution, something Timberlake fails to do on FutureSex.

Not only is Timberlake overshadowed by the album's electro-shock beats, but he adopts a persona -- the dirty-minded, dapper don -- that's still difficult to buy. No matter how many times I hear "SexyBack," I still can't get over that it's aw-shucks Timberlake trying to get all nasty.

Most of FutureSex has Timberlake sounding like Prince during his 1999 heyday, a slight upgrade considering people couldn't stop comparing him to Michael Jackson when Justified hit. The influence of his Royal Badness seems to be flowing throughout a lot of white soul releases. Thicke fills his Evolution song titles with the same numbers-and-letters shorthand Prince practically patented.

Out to prove that they, too, have some funk in their trunk, Timberlake and Thicke are locked in a battle for plastic-soul supremacy. At the moment, Timberlake, with his snarky sex appeal and ability to make everybody moist and horny on the dance floor, has the upper hand. But you shouldn't count Thicke out just yet -- his Evolution is too glorious to ignore. Robin Thicke will perform Saturday, November 25, at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483. John Legend also performs.

 
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