To: Terius Nash
Re: IV Play
Sorry I left your party so quickly last night, but I decided I was gonna go home and just listen to some D’Angelo B-sides. I thought that with your insane guest list—Jay Z, Fabolous, Beyonce, Pusha T, 2 Chainz—I was in for something resembling a good time. Or at least an after-party vibe full of those sultry slow jams you brought us on 2009’s Love vs. Money and 2010’s Love King.
It seemed safe to assume that the man who co-wrote “Single Ladies” and “Umbrella” as well as 2007’s Falsetto would be able to lay down some original R&B tracks, complete with catchy hooks and a few aural surprises every now and then. But maybe I expected too much from you, Terius, because nothing on this album is surprising. Despite your insistence that “they won’t play this on Top 40 radio” in “Slow It Down,” the lyrical and musical content of IV Play doesn’t stray far from the Top 40 standards of mind-numbing repetition and stories about getting high and having sex.
“Loving You/Crazy” showed the greatest amount of promise, only to disappoint. It’s the party moment where you think someone is going to start dancing on tables or fighting with the host, but instead it just turns out the toilet is clogged. At first, the track seems like a nod to Prince’s “Irresistable Bitch” with a jumpy beat and fiery breaths, but then reverts back into your sad-sack lover croon and autotune safety blanket. The chorus (“Luh-luh-lovin’ you baby”) is dancing fodder for sure, but the song relies a little too heavily on it. “Michael” also shows moments of life, as it’s the only track on the album where you aren’t trying to be someone else. It’s a place you knows well: cautious build-up, subtle vocals and winking self-confidence that’s hard not to enjoy. But lyrics like “I wanna lick on it/Maybe put my dick on it” make the song sound like a compilation of sexts, which could be great, but they’re sexts for someone else, and I don’t really care. “Michael” makes me feel like if I ever had a conversation with you one-on-one, you’d just speak (or moan) in different metaphors for “your ass is nice,” but then you would say something way grosser about how you miss the way my hair smells. If you’re going to do an album of explicit sex jams, maybe don’t make it also kind of pathetic.
But it’s not all bad: “Too Early” featuring a bellowed verse from Gary Clark Jr., is the easy frontrunner in the album, opening with a soaring guitar riff, before a throbbing drum beats drops in behind those signature post-coitus breathy vocals. This is the kind of stuff I was expecting, and as a reminder of what you, The-Dream, are capable of, it makes the rest of the album even more disappointing.
Then, “Pussy” is the part of the party where we break out the Twister board because we don’t know what else to do, and we make it sexual: “Got my left hand on that booty/got my right hand on that pussy,” you harp over a dryly thumping beat. Pusha T tries to make things interesting, but not for long, and Big Sean stops by to compare his penis to corn on the cob. The obvious video for “Pussy” was banned almost instantly from Youtube. “New Orleans” is a mid-party, jerk-off sesh where everyone is left wondering where the heck the host went. And it’s not just because it’s a grocery list of things ending with the phrase “this bitch” but it’s awfully, eye-rollingly dull. If there’s a song worth skipping altogether, it’s this one.
On the album’s title track, you whisper “I could give a fuck about the foreplay,” and it shows. IV Play isn’t a wholly terrible album. It grazes the very basest level for everything you might look for in an album by The-Dream: sex appeal, rhythm and famous people. But when you want a song to go beyond that, beyond a half-hearted outline of your expectations, what you get is mostly a slap in the face, but not even a thrilling one. When I first got your invitation Terius, I had high hopes for this musical gathering, but instead, I spent most of it scanning the room, looking for the best way to make a swift exit.