The-Dream earned his respect as a songwriter who co-wrote
larger-than-life pop anthems, penning “Umbrella” for Rihanna and “Single
Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” for Beyoncé, as well as less-known but
evocative tracks for everyone from Usher (“Trading Places”) to Rick Ross
(“All I Really Want”). His solo debut, 2007’s Love/Hate, broke
through with minor hits “Shawty Is Da Shit” and “Falsetto”, whose wildly
addictive hooks papered over his slight persona. The rest of that
record created a constellation of characteristics that laid out his
aesthetic– the lush production courtesy of beatmakers L.O.S. and Tricky
Stewart, songs that wash into each other in the mode of a DJ mix to
create a miniature suite with precision sequencing.
On Love vs. Money, The-Dream’s second LP, he tried to
replicate this effect to slightly lesser effect. Although the epic sweep
of the second album’s final third was The-Dream at a songwriting peak,
the front-loaded pop songs– particularly “Walking on the Moon”‘s thin
attempt at literal transcendence– felt like shadows of past
achievements. Even so, it was another vital chapter in an unusual
career, as The-Dream has balanced the mercenary hit-making obsessions of
his peers with the tender loving care of an auteur working out a
Love King, the alleged final chapter in his Love Trilogy, is
the thrilling conclusion to his three-album arc. If you’ve been charmed
by The-Dream’s strengths– Tin Pan Alley song concepts and an unceasing
sense of musical craft– then you’ll be immensely satisfied with the
music here. The record argues for The-Dream’s identity as an album
artist whose tics and stylistic effects have created a self-sustaining
world of distinctive R&B, and in a style that proudly wears its
influences on its sleeve.
As a debut single, “Love King” felt like a cobbled-together
collection of these attributes: the expected “radio killa” ad-libs,
self-mythologizing, and hooks with familiar insistence. But it turned
out to be a pump fake, because here it makes for a great table-setting
opener. Love King builds on Love/Hate and Love vs.
Money by indulging in emotional and melodic excess. The-Dream knows
where to find the sweet spot, and he has an uncanny knack for how pieces
of music fit together. When a song would be best served by space, he
gives it plenty. Every piano chord and finger snap and bass hit is in
its right place. He sweats every detail but never loses sight of how the
album works as a whole.
“Yamaha”, the most immediately powerful track on the record, is one
example of what he does so well. It pushes The-Dream’s earlier Prince
nod “Fast Car” even further in the direction of outright imitation, with
searing hooks, nakedly lustful appeals, and an arrangement and
instrumentation that pay homage to the R&B of the early 1980s. As
the song unwinds, you feel like you’re sharing the songwriter’s love of
this music, and marveling at the way that he absorbs it into his own
aesthetic. The following “Nikki Part 2″, emerging from the twinkling
synths of “Yamaha”, keeps the run going, the melancholy of the verses
ultimately finding transcendent emotional recognition when the song
opens on the chorus. And then the urgent drama of “Abyss”, a perfect
title for a song that feels like an emotional freefall, completes the
mid-album triptych, its epic chorus evoking a cold-water plunge of
claustrophobic betrayal. These highly charged moments are balanced by
more understated tracks. “Turnt Out” is The-Dream at his easiest and
most likable, and it’s one of the album’s few moments of restraint.
Meanwhile, “February Love” turns Love vs. Money fan favorite
“Fancy” from a grandiose statement to a more intimate memory.
The-Dream’s debut had the advantage of appearing in a vacuum,
enabling him to balance his traditional songwriting impulses with a
unique creative approach. Once it became apparent that the latter
direction had garnered him a loyal following, the pressure to give more
generously to that audience led to an imbalance on Love vs. Money.
With Love King, it no longer feels as if he’s splitting the
difference between his pop star ambition and a large cult of admirers.
By breaking down the detachment that made him such a popular songwriter
to follow his personal musical vision, and it’s taken him to a place
only he could find.
— David Drake, July
Source Link: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14449-love-king/
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