Monday, July 7, 2014

album review: 'trigga' by trey songz

So in the past, I may have mentioned that after Chris Brown's assault on Rihanna in 2009 and his justified career slump, there was a rush by the music industry to find the next big Usher-wannabe and push them into the spotlight. And in 2009/2010, we got a slew of acts getting major promotion in this area, like Taio Cruz, Jeremih, Iyaz, and two I've talked about before, Jay Sean and Jason Derulo, the latter of which managed to stick around and somehow get worse.

And among that group was Trey Songz, although he had been in the industry a little longer than most of his contemporaries and drew much more of his inspiration from one of the most influential figures in modern R&B: R. Kelly, who at the time was coming off of a string of mostly forgettable albums and one unforgettable video series. Now this isn't the first time R. Kelly has spawned artists who tried to mimic his style - acts like Ginuwine and B2K and who you likely forgot existed from the early 2000s fell into this vein - but Trey Songz managed to stick around even as R. Kelly moved into old-school R&B and soul and Chris Brown's career bounced from a resurgence to one of the worst albums released in 2012. 

Now going back to Trey Songz, I'm mostly positive on him as an artist, but he's always been the act who I would consider quite good without ever being great. Yeah, his voice is amazing, but it hasn't always complimented the icy production that tends to dominate his albums. It doesn't help matters that the dawn of Autotune in R&B really hasn't aged well, especially from between 2007 and 2010, and that can hurt some of his older material. On top of that, while I will definitely give him points for making some pretty damn solid love jams, his sleazier material has never really had the insane wit or creativity that characterized R. Kelly's work, and while he has a lot of charisma, he has never really had the soul or boundless presence that has defined Usher's best work. Both of these have meant that he tends to positioned as a B-lister - which honestly strikes me as unfair, because I'd take him over Jason Derulo or Chris Brown any day of the week. 

But now he's got a new record out, and in the wake of R. Kelly's return to convention with Black Panties being less than stellar and Chris Brown continuously delaying X as long as he possibly can, I figured Trey Songz's newest record Trigga was worth a look. What did I find?

Honestly, not a whole lot - it's a Trey Songz R&B record that's alright for the most part, but at the same time it's exactly what you'd expect from the guy and only has brief sparks of creativity instead something with more ambition or flavour. In other words, fans looking for their standard fix of Trey Songz will like this record, but if you're looking for an R&B record that'll blow your mind beyond Trey Songz's other work, you might leave disappointed. 

And at this point, anyone who has heard a single Trey Songz song would know exactly what to expect going into this record: the man has a tremendous voice, and while there are definitely points where I'd prefer if he opted for more of a soulful approach, I get that when it comes to this variety of hookup sex jams, Trey Songz is bringing a certain alpha male braggadocious element that does work in his favour. To be fair, he's never really overshadowed by his guest stars, and none of them really embarrass themselves here. The sleaze is a natural fit for Juicy J and Ty Dolla Sign, and Nicki Minaj is probably the standout in her sex-hungry counterbalance to Trey Songz on 'Touchin', Lovin''. And as much as I have never understood the appeal of Justin Bieber nowadays, he's not terrible on the remix of 'Foreign' and the added show of him actually speaking French kind of fits the vibe of the song. The one guest appearance I didn't like was courtesy of Mila J, but that was more because the song 'Disrespectful' was such an incredibly unappealing song, at least for me.

See, here's where I've always had an issue with Trey Songz: the balance between his genuine love songs and all-out sleaze is always tilted a little further towards the latter than I like, to the points where it glorifies the drunken hedonism - which can work if Trey Songz actually bothered with morally ambiguous framing or telling more of a story. But take 'Disrespectful', a song where both guy and girl are cheating on their respective partners and almost seem to be getting off on rubbing it in their faces - I mean, there's catharsis and then just being dicks for the sake of it! Or take 'Smartphones', which features one of the better melodies and vocal performances where Trey Songz gets caught cheating and resolves to lie right to his girlfriend's face to try to win her back even though he knows it probably won't work - and I'm supposed to sympathize with his emotional plight here? Really? Or take the token moment of introspection on 'You Ain't Shit', where a girl starts throwing some uncomfortable questions at Trey Songz about the emptiness of his life over a pretty damn solid piano line and good crescendo, but instead of actually acknowledging there might be some truth in what she's saying, he jumps straight into counterattack and the entire song just becomes another sex jam. And you know, I'm not exactly against Trey Songz' material in this vein - 'Touchin', Lovin'' had a solid balance with Nicki and 'All We Do' had a certain icy pure cool that ended up working for me - but when you're six albums into your career and most songs have been in this vein, you don't exactly see a lot of evolution!

Well, that's not precisely fair, as Trey Songz has always worked to stay on top of whatever might be popular in minimalist R&B at the time, and by collaborating with DJ Mustard, Mike Will Made It, and a host of other producers in this vein, he puts together a lot of truly bleak and dark instrumentals, most of which are overloaded with reverb and fuzz, focus on a single echoing keyboard line, and occasionally some interesting percussion. And if the production just had more restraint I'd like it a fair bit more - take 'Late Night' which probably features one of Mike Will Made It's better synth lines and melodies, but then he slathers a fuzz all over it that completely killed any feeling of opulence or class the track might have had. 'Smartphones' has a similar problem with a very high thin synth at the top of the mix that just became intolerable as the song continued on. But the bigger problem is the same that I've always had with R&B in this vein, especially the songs with some trap influences: it's really hard for me to find this material all that sexy or fun because it's so washed out and dreary. Sure, Trey Songz tries to make up for it with some multi-tracked harmonies, but even on some tracks on this record he sounds drowned out.

But then comes the album closer, 'Change Your Mind' - and it's a complete change in pace, featuring primarily a guitar, some rougher percussion, and a generally sunny, upbeat tone in the synths and vocal delivery - and it's like night and day. Sure, Trey Songz is singing about much of the same material, but for one song, he actually captures some of that effervescent upbeat energy in his harmonies and makes a genuinely great song. Easily my favourite on the record if only because the song is still recognizably Trey Songz with the somewhat sleazy undercurrent, but it's loose, upbeat, and fun and so much more appealing. And on that note, it makes me look back at the rest of Trigga that with that much more exasperation, because if Trey Songz is capable of switching his production for something like this, he doesn't need to keep returning to the icy keyboards that have dominated album after album of his!

Look, in the end, putting aside 'Change Your Mind', it's a typical Trey Songz record, but it's also an album that should be better than this. Trey Songz has fallen into a holding pattern, and while I'm sure that'll please die-hard fans, as this album inevitably will, it's not one that really engages with me, half because the sleaze can just get really tiresome and a little boring the more he skews that balance. Say what you will about the experimentation on Jason Derulo's Tattoos that failed way more often than it succeeded, but it at least was there. That said, outside of some exasperating lyrics, this record is passable, and Trey Songz is the kind of performer whose charisma can redeem some frustrating material, which leads me to give it a 6/10 - but only a recommendation if you're a fan. Otherwise, check out 'Change Your Mind' and skip the rest - it's not exactly something you haven't heard before.

No comments:

Post a Comment