Nobody makes a sex record better than The-Dream, and the appropriately titled IV Play is all about sex. Not much else but that. Just sex.
That’s cool: It’s worked for him for awhile, and on IV Play, in stores , it still does. At the same time, though, there’s something odd about the fact that a songwriter who’s obviously capable of writing enormous, and versatile, hits for superstars like Beyonce, Rihanna and Mariah Carey would keep his own work so narrowly focused on a subject that, while certainly titillating, doesn’t tend to reveal greater meaning as it’s endlessly retreaded, as it is on this album.
His tunnel-vision isn’t a bad thing, necessarily — if anything, it makes for a record that’s more focused and cohesive than previous efforts. But at a certain point, even baby-making jams start to feel stale.
Consider the first four tracks: On the Jay-Z assisted “High Art,” Dream croons, “I make love to my girl / I get high with my niggas,” which is a serviceable hook. (It got stuck in my head.) The sweet, sultry “IV Play” is a serviceable mission statement for the album; it opens with Nash murmuring, “I can give a fuck about the foreplay / I want it now / I’m talking straight sex / Stop fucking around,” and while it ultimately builds in its density to become a pretty compelling sonic nugget, it never gets more lyrically sophisticated. Fans expecting anything else on “Equestrian” will be disappointed: “We gon’ fuck all day / We gon’ fuck all night,” he sings. The next song is called “Pussy,” which kinda says it all.
It works some places and fails elsewhere; the lazy misogyny of “New Orleans” is an egregious misfire, but “Michael,” his tribute to Michael Jackson, is an instant standout — it’s bouncy and a little bit giddy. (Even there, though, hearing him sing, “Fuck a love song / I need to fuck you / All day, all night” is wearing thin.) The Beyonce and 2 Chainz-assisted banger “Turnt” marks a weird departure for King Bey, since she foregoes all the typical vocal pyrotechnics to serve as the hook girl. Meanwhile (however ironically), Kelly Rowland gets to show off in “Where Have You Been,” one of the more tender songs on the LP, even if the chorus sees Dream crooning, “I’m all fucked up now”; even at his most sentimental, there’s a coarseness that’s both likable and off-putting.
Still, there’s nothing that approaches the thrilling heights of his best songs (ugh, remember “Yamaha”?). IV Play feels deliberate in so many ways: Dream is much more of a Serious Artist than many of his contemporaries, and much of the album, in all its swirling, textured dynamism, feels more impressively complex than most mainstream R&B. And yet, it left me dissatisfied. IV Play is an album that feels hugely ambitious but curiously empty, with lyrics that don’t deliver on the sophistication of the production and the keenness of the hooks. Like a one-night stand, maybe it could have benefited from a little more heart.
Standout Tracks: “IV Play,” “Michael,” “Turnt”
Pops Like: R. Kelly if he took himself very seriously, with hooks as sharp as all your favorite songs. (Dream wrote ‘em.)
Best Listened To: While doing sex or whatever. (Sorry. It’s my first time.)
Full Disclosure: I went to hear tracks from this album in the studio with Dream about a month ago and thought the album sounded absolutely incredible (but then, albums always sound incredible in a recording studio with the artist rhapsodizing about them), and the fact that Timbaland came out barefoot and started dancing certainly didn’t hurt. (I said at the time that it was better than Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience, which underwhelmed me, and the sonic complexity of Dream’s songs was such a welcome pleasure.) Perhaps my expectations were too high, but listening to it in full now, I found it slightly less, um, orgasmic than I remembered. Don’t get me wrong: It was still good. But nothing toe-curling.
Idolator Rating: 3/5