He’d never admit it, but some part of Trey Songz had to see Usher’s latest album, Lookin 4 Myself, go number one and silently curse. At this point only Usher Raymond is standing in Trey’s way in his quest to claim the king of R&B crown, and Usher’s proven to be frustratingly resilient. Still, while Usher’s nearly 20 years in the game have earned him some much deserved rest, Songz’ youth and willingness to forgo sleep has made him the day in and day out face of R&B. Are you a famous rapper in need of a hook? Songz has you covered. There a show in Grand Prairie, Texas? Songz is there. Rocawear’s looking for a new spokesman? Sure, Songz will do that too.
And while Trey is still looking for a classic album on par with Usher’s Confessions, the man continues to turn out quality album after quality album. Following his 2011 breakthrough album Passion, Pain & Pleasure, the project that truly announced he had arrived, his latest effort, Chapter V, is the work of a man who’s not content with merely being a star, he wants to be a superstar. Unfortunately, that drive to become all things to all people has diluted Chapter V’s impact, but while that lack of a strong artistic vision will stop Chapter V from becoming a classic, it won’t stop it from becoming a hit.
Songz was no stranger to the club before Bottoms Up, but his hook on Nicki Minaj’s mega single transformed him into the hook singer for binge drinking anthems, a reputation he’s only too happy to capitalize on Chapter V. In fact, his entire life has been distilled into 2 Reasons. While it’s impossible to predict which singles will catch on and which won’t, Songz does everything possible to push Reason’s uptempo catchiness into smash territory, and a verse from T.I. never hurts. By contrast the Diddy and Meek Mill banger Check Me Out, which finds Songz’ quasi-rapping, sounds forced and focus-grouped. There’s a reason why they buried it near the bottom of a 20-track album.
To Trey’s credit it would have been easy to set up camp in the club and make ten different versions of 2 Reasons, but instead the bulk of Chapter V is comprised of some pretty straight up, babymaker, bed burning R&B. If you take a step back the vocal switches Songz’ runs through on Dive In are impressive, but he makes it sound so effortless you barely notice. Similarly, the aptly-titled slow jam Panty Wetter features a pretty damn good R. Kelly impression from Songz, Pretty Girl Lie doesn’t give him any instrumental to hide behind, and Don't Be Scared features him bringing some of those vocal chops to a more electronically-tinged beat (mandatory Rick Ross guest verse alert). On second thought, Without a Woman is the album’s most traditional R&B offering, pairing a James Brown inspired subject matter with live instrumentation and some vocal fireworks from Trey. I’m sure it doesn’t take much for Songz to look out on the audience of his shows and realize who makes up the majority of his fan base. Ladies, Chapter V is for you. Fellas, feel free to throw on Chapter V and bust out your best “I’m not Trey Songz, but Songz isn’t walking through that door and I’m here right now” moves.
If Chapter V signals any change for Songz from Passion, Pain and Pleasure it’s his willingness to venture outside the bounds of normal R&B – a trend the entire genre is following as the lines between pop, R&B, dubstep, hip-hop and just about everything else blur beyond recognition. Never Again is as straight pop as the album gets, launching with a guitar and synth riff that could have just as easily belonged to Katy Perry, while on the other end of the spectrum Simply Amazing goes for that crossover appeal with an acoustic guitar-driven cut that Songz does his damnedest to make the kind of song just as likely to get played on VH1 as BET. Only time will tell if he ends up succeeding with Simply Amazing, but he’s given himself a hell of a chance.
Simply put, there’s not a single mistake on Chapter V. Yes, the album could have used some editing, 19 tracks means someone just couldn’t say no, but there’s still not a failed song here. Songz has become a consummate professional, capable of delivering exactly what his increasingly wide-ranging audience wants. And that right there is the only real criticism that can be leveled against him. Even after five studio albums we don’t really have a sense of who Trey Songz the artist is. He’s either unwilling or uninterested in breaking musical ground, seemingly content instead to perfectly execute other people’s songs. Songz isn’t doing anything new, but when he’s still delivering music this high quality it really doesn’t matter that much. Now if Usher would only get out of the way…
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins