Review Summary: This ain't a love song
In a contemporary R&B landscape that worships the Abel Tesfayes and James Blakes of the world, it's amazing that The-Dream can write hit after hit for prolific mainstream artists while releasing solo records of his own brand of innovative, chilled out R&B - yet still
goes virtually unmentioned by the critical universe. Maybe it's the incredibly direct, sexually starved lyricism that's off-putting to some - possible, yet questionable, because while his contemporaries may not be particularly as blunt about the topic, sex is essentially the very foundation of R&B. Regardless, Terius Nash aka The-Dream is back after his more introspective 1977
, a futuristic electro-soul soaked affair that welcomed a darker-themed departure from his standard fare. After its somewhat casual release as a mixtape, 1977
made it to shelves the following year to very little fanfare. After only peaking at 29 on the Billboard R&B charts, maybe this was the impetus to IV Play
, an aptly titled fourth studio LP dedicated to a thorough exploration of sexual hedonism through a lens of chauvinism.
Nash takes a step backward here; while not a horribly significant step by any means, it still nonetheless reeks of commercialism and less-than-artistic goals. While unfortunate, it's no doubt understandable in light of The-Dream's currently lacking public brand name recognition. What we get is a record brimming with club oriented bangers completely dedicated to the appreciation of the female anatomy and simplistic musings on love, desire, relationships, or any combination thereof. But if anyone in the popular music industry is capable of arranging the essence of a sappy or playful track, it's The-Dream. "High Art" sets the tone at its most base level with trap-infused boom bap and the anthemic refrain, "I make love to my girl / I get high with my ni
ggas". There are no blinders here; IV Play
is a simple expose on the least common denominator thoughts of a [likely straight male] club patron.
succeeds in spades with its production and songwriting - expectedly as this is the very same producer that brought us Beyonce's incredible "Single Ladies". That trademark dark, Vangelis-esque synth plays a critical role in propagating The-Dream's intended grimy atmosphere on tracks like "Equestrian" and the outstanding "Loving You/ Crazy". To draw a modern parallel, the production techniques employed here vaguely call on the electronic influenced sounds of Jeremy Rose's early compositions with The Weeknd. But, for the uninitiated, this is a sound that Nash has been finely honing since 2007, well before the most recent contemporary R&B resurgence was able to find a modicum of underground appeal. He is a true master on the boards, capable of fully engaging the casual and educated listener alike with complex yet accessible, danceable methodologies.
Predictably, the real problem here is easy to identify within the excessively laughable lyricism. Of course, one doesn't seek out The-Dream lyrics on the road to enlightenment typically; he is at his very best expounding the toll of heartbreak and musing over starry-eyed love numbers. Interestingly, "Equestrian" and "Loving You/ Crazy" form a dichotomy that acts as an apposite, overarching commentary on IV Play
. Both pulsate brilliantly as compositions, yet the former cheapens the experience with a downright strange, poor taste simile likening sex to equestrian, the actual sport terminology for horseback riding. The latter is a soulful, heartfelt expression of longing that comes across more as beautiful than as Weeknd posturing and is a strong indicator of what could be. But the onslaught of poor taste lyricism continues throughout, most notably with Big Sean's pedestrian, confusing, misogynist verse demanding fellatio, "I tell her slob on my knob / like it's corn on the cob". That song is called "Pussy" and the chorus is "Got my left hand on that booty / got my right hand on that pussy". Yeah.
The-Dream is obviously one of the more talented players in contemporary R&B; his production skills are nearly unparalleled, and his voice rivals absolutely anyone. But he really needs to pause for a second in the aftermath of IV Play
and truly reflect on just who Terius Nash is, or could be.