It's no secret that Def Jam prince and Grammy award winner The-Dream, aka Terius Youngdell Nash can write a hit. The "Radio Killa"'s credentials include co-writing Beyonce's 'Single Ladies', Rihanna's 'Umbrella' and Bieber's 'Baby', as well as releasing four critically acclaimed records in the past 6 years. IV Play is The-Dream's fifth solo LP, following his albums Love Trilogy' and the self titled Terius Nash: 1977, released for free via his website last year.
Love Trilogy was a collection of three LPs spanning 4 years, was the creation of The-Dream's distinctive, self-sustaning R&B style of larger than life pop choruses and a whole load of Auto-Tune. All this is heavily present throughout IV Play, and since he's been such a busy boy over the past decade, you would expect this album to top the predecessors and blow your mind with some sex-worthy R&B hits. As the track 'Equestrian' suggests, one expects to be riding the beat like a dirty slave to the slow-jam. On the contrary, this 14-track beast of a record leaves you feeling exhausted, confused and a little less than hot under the collar.
The record opens with the Jay-Z featured track 'High Art' which includes a significant level of bounce, a pulsating trap beat and heaps of swag, making what would seem like the perfect opener. Instead, clichéd lyrics stand out amongst a sea of vocoder, and one is left crying out for more bass. Followed by the latest single 'IV Play' and the slightly cringe-worthy 'Pussy', the three opening tracks merge together, as repeated beat sequences cause everything to blur into one long song.
Although the token tunefullness we saw throughout Love Trilogy is sewn into the fabric of IV, overt lyrics such as "I put my dick on it" and "Got my left hand on that booty, got my right hand on that pussy" don't get you as hot as they're intended to, and it feels like you're slap bang in the middle of a damp boys locker room party. And not in a good way.
Luckily, on track five, Beyonce swoops in, saving us all. 'Turnt' proves The-Dream's ability to write insane hooks, as Bey's harmonies soar over fractured beats and Trap ticks before 2 Chainz comes in and spits all over the bridge. The subtlety of the lyrics are sexier than its 'Pussy' predecessor, and a gyrating beat makes it the most crunk-worthy track on the album. Furthermore, 'Where Have You Been' featuring Kelly Rowland is the epitome of the 'slow-jam'. An emotional piano intro leads us into conversational vocals from Terius and Kelly, which can't help but become reminiscent of Kelly and Nelly's 'Dilemma' era. Terius also lays back on the vocoder for these tracks which is frankly, a huge relief within 14 tracks of ALL THE AUTO-TUNE. Now, we love an ambient vocal as much as the next guy, but there's a line, and Terius crossed it 12 tracks ago.
Evidently, the best songs on the album include the collaborators. Making up almost half of the record are the powerhouse that is Mr & Mrs Carter, 2 Chainz, Pusha T, Fabolous, Big Sean, Gary Clark Jr and Kelly Rowland. The support from these talents on 50% of the LP leaves you wondering whether or not The-Dream could carry this alone, and frankly the tracks without featured artists such as 'Micheal' and 'New Orleans' have the tendency of sounding same-y. This being said, Gary Clark Jr features on the sultry guitar track 'Too Early' which really stands out from the crowd. The huge chorus is all about harmonized vocal and epic key changes, building to a funky guitar solo before ending on a soulful acapella climax. Gary also lays down some Weeknd-esque falsetto over the final chorus, which adds a refreshingly warm tone to the track, and admittedly, the album.
Overall, the LP feels like Omarion and The Weeknd had an illegitimate son who constantly tries to live up to his daddies' success. The-Dream no doubt has the incredible knack of knowing how pieces of music fit together. Each beat, bump and grind is in the right place, and his talent as a producer is infallible. However, this evident writing talent leaves the album feeling predictable, and the sheer volume of collaborators causes one to question his weight as a solo performance artist.
The record harbours some good R&B pop tracks, a dash of definitive baby-making music and a whole load of swagger. However, more often than we'd like, The-Dream attempts a filthiness that juxtaposes his safe beats and familiar song structures, lacking the inherent dirtiness that The Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye brings so naturally. When all is said and done, the record can be summed up with a quote from Mr. Nash himself from the title track IV Play: "I don't give a fuck about foreplay, I want it now." Ironically, some gentle rubbing may be exactly what this album needs.