Hitmaking R&B/pop singer, songwriter and producer The-Dream has released his fifth studio album, IV Play, on Def Jam Records. Aside from last year's half-hearted re-release of previously-released free album 1997, IV Play serves as the Radio Killa head honcho's first new full-length since 10's Love King.
While the previously-released, Booth-approved cut "Slow It Down" and the album's title track are the only tracks to be officially released off the album as singles, other featured selections on the set include "High Art," "Where Have You Been?," "Turnt" and bonus track "TRON." Joining the North Carolina born artist are special guests 2 Chainz, Beyonce, Big Sean, Fabolous, Jay-Z, Kelly Rowland and Pusha T.
IV Play Album Review
On the other hand, music is different. It’s not just about dependability and predictability, it’s about emotion, the rush of discovery, the joy of having an artist take us somewhere we didn’t even know we wanted to go. How an artist manages to walk that tightrope between consistency and creativity, between giving fans what they want and breaking new ground, determines their longevity. Stay stagnant and you’re gone, travel too far outside your lane and you’re gone. It’s a nearly impossible balance to strike, but no one said a long career in music was supposed to be easy.
In many ways The-Dream’s new album, IV Play, finds him sitting at exactly those crossroads. Excluding 1977, a free project that was later turned into an “album”, IV Play finds Dream delving into more sounds and styles than ever before. On his classic Love vs. Hate and Love vs. Money albums he mastered a kind R&B that was somehow simultaneously organic and electronic, babymaking-inducing and heartbroken. By contrast, IV Play contains far more guest features than any previous project, is his first without any production from “Tricky” Stewart, and the first time it begins to feel like he’s chasing trends instead of setting them.
Case in point, the ironically unlistenable TRON, a track dedicated to proving Dream’s originality by…having him adopt the kind of quasi-EDM production and vocal-shifted trap rapping that’s so currently overplayed. If there’s anyone who wants to hear the same man who made the gripping Take U Home 2 My Mama make something like TRON, I don’t know them. On the same note, hearing him pour on the Auto-Tune on a ballad like Self Conscious is as unnecessary as Dirk Digler taking ExtenZe. (Warning, that reference is quasi-NSFW if you find yourself needing to look it up.) Some of IV Play’s other offerings are a little harder to categorize. There’s no denying the catchiness of Pu**y, the man still knows how to throw down a hell of a hook, but it’s odd to hear him, and Big Sean, adopt the same stuttering, chopped flow Future has so thoroughly popularized. (I know Dream would say otherwise, so listen to TRON for his side of the story…if you can.) Similarly, Turn Up is hypnotically catchy and no surprise Beyonce kills her sections, but especially with a 2 Chainz verse, multiple “ratchet” shout outs and title like Turn Up, it feels like he's trying too hard. I’ll need more time before I can definitively say I don’t like Pu**y, Turn Up and High Art. I have to figure out if I’m being a grumpy old fan, but for now I can say I’ve never had these hesitancies about a Dream album before.
Never fear though, there are some moments of the good 'ol Dream here. While he never does the “one track seamlessly transitioning into another” I thought was his true trademark (see Sex Intelligent into Sex Intelligent Remix), those eager to buy diapers in nine months will find some welcome material on IV Play, starting with the title track: the hypnotic beat, the harmonies, the NSFW lyrics, now this is what I come to a Dream album looking for. I can say the same for the spacey and dysfunctionally sexy New Orleans, Too Early, featuring some serious blues influence from Gary Clark Jr. and the slowly unwinding Equestrian, but oddly for an album titled IV Play, I just don’t see this album playing continuously while you…um…play Scrabble with your significant other in bed.
Do I want The-Dream to make Love vs. Money over and over again. Well, considering I think Love vs. Money is one of the best R&B albums of the last decade, yes, yes I do. So maybe I am stuck in the past, maybe IV Play just needs a chance to really grow on me. It’s a possibility, but ultimately, those “oh sh*t!” moments I had on every previous Dream album? Those moments when you couldn't even to wait for the song to finish before hitting rewind? They’re not here for me on this album. I’m willing to follow Dream to new territory, but first I need to trust he knows where he’s doing. Right now, I don’t.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins