IV Play

The critic Greil Marcus wrote in 1975, “[t]hose who mean to seduce don’t announce their intentions through megaphones.” But clearly Marcus did not anticipate an artist like the Dream (also, apparently, Prince, R. Kelly, and Trey Songz, to name a few), who has frequently announced his intentions—to seduce, and more—through whatever megaphone is available, in songs like “Falsetto,” “Sweat It Out,” “Put It Down,” “Panties To The Side,” and “Fuck My Brains Out.” The Dream’s new album, with the punny title IV Play, works around similarly carnal themes. Songs like “Equestrian,” tap the old riding-a-horse-is-like-sex metaphor, and hooks are transparent in their desire: “I can give a fuck about the foreplay/ I want it now.” If anything, the Dream is wasting even less time on seduction as he gets older.

But the Dream (Terius Nash) isn’t as one-dimensional as he sounds—he’s actually sort of a musical schizophrenic, torn between the different parts of his musical personality. He’s best known for the songs he’s written and production he’s done for other, mostly female, artists: Rihanna, Ciara, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Cassie. These are often songs about love and empowerment, even from the titles—Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and “Run The World (Girls),” Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Mariah Carey’s “More Than Just Friends,” Mary J.’s “Just Fine,” Cassie’s “Nobody But You.”

As a soloist Nash has charted a different path. It’s a path full of sex, yes, but also frustration and anger. This anger is usually directed at former-lovers—“I ’m here to put your heart in its place/ chained up in the bottom of the lake.” Sometimes the sex and anger are intertwined, as in the song “Nikki,” when Nash tells his ex, “I ain’t sad. . . so every time that you think of me know I’ve been making love to Nikki.”

Though there are a few songs for Ciara and Rihanna that dabble in aggressive sexuality, it’s the Dream’s sound, not his attitude, that connects his two personalities.  He’s steeped in aching R&B ballads from the late 1970s and 80s, chord progressions from Prince (mostly the keyboard riff from “Beautiful Ones,” though occasionally he dabbles in “Little Red Corvette” or “She’s Always In My Hair), and a thick, modern synth-scape, solid and blurting, that intersects occasionally with hip-hop backdrops. It’s busy, carefully constructed music, but also shiny and sugary.

Except IV Play lacks that shine, and the sugar.  Sure, the Dream’s got the come-ons, the high-profile guests (few musicians have as many big names in their phonebooks), the “Beautiful Ones” riff that pops up again, sneaking into “Michael” and underlying both “IV Play” and “Where Have You Been.” But it all feels heavy, nothing takes off. Maybe the Dream’s satiated–when he sings a line like “I can give a fuck about the foreplay, I want it now,” or “Get up here and riiiiiiiiiiiide,” he doesn’t sound all that interested.

Since he’s not seducing the ladies, there’s not much suspense. And there’s not much fun either, no humor, no sense of joy in his conquests. (Some Dream songs gain their buoyancy from silliness, like “Shawy Is Da Shit,” which mainly involved the Dream listing female names and singing “I don’t need no hook for this shit.”) IV Play is a record about a guy who mostly gets what he wants by asking.  If he doesn’t care, who will?

Tellingly, one of the albums’ best songs, “New Orleans,” is about the Dream under a woman’s spell.  He can’t get what he wants, she’s “put the New Orleans” on him, and he can’t figure things out.  (The listener can’t either, what the heck is the “New Orleans” and how does one get some?).  This time, when things work out—“On Thursday I leave you alone/ On Friday you showing up in my songs/ On Saturday we back on the phone/ By Sunday, welcome home”—it matters. When things get too easy, life is boring.

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