It was with much relief that I discovered that our family's holiday vacation was perfectly timed with a notable lack of new releases - in fact, according to the Rhapsody highlights ticker at least, my week-long blog break made me miss only a couple: this new The-Dream, and an album by the winner of Puerto Rico's version of American Idol, which, let's be honest, I probably won't have anything constructive to say about anyway. But now, after our six-day travel spree (bookended by people barfing on the baby's jacket, I should note - first the drunk lady in front of us on the plane, then my three-year-old in the car roughly three minutes from our drive back from the airport the the house), I'M BACK! And while I won't go so far as to say that I'm "better than ever" (more sleep is required for that, I'm afraid), I am FINALLY ready to tackle The-Dream.
So here's the thing. I love The-Dream. I have ever since 2007, when my sister and brother-in-law were living with me, and my bro-in-law became obsessed with that "Shawty Is Da Shit" song, even making it his ringtone for when my sister called him (awwwww!!!!). It was then that I discovered that not only is The-Dream aka Terius Nash a monster producer/songwriter (most known for Rihanna's "Umbrella", but involved in millions of other hits as well), but also a damn fine artist himself. So yes, I did buy his 2009 release Love Vs. Money to celebrate the birth of my first son, and yes, I did listen to 2010's Love King on repeat at work, despite the occasional discomfort I experienced when a co-worker came into my office during that "Panties To The Side" track (yeah, there were some weird moments. sorry, Jerry). I tell you all of this to explain why I simply can't do too much research on Nash himself - I know he married Christina Milian, I know they had a baby, and I know they broke up - but I really, really, don't want to know why. 'Cause if I knew why, you see, and it involved too much fuckery or douchebaggery on his part, I might not be able to enjoy his music as much. SO JESUS CHRIST MAN, DON'T PULL AN R. KELLY. OR A CHRIS BROWN. SERIOUSLY, I LIVE IN FEAR. Oh hey, though, I could also talk about the music!
The first time I tried to listen to this album, both of my kids were awake, and I made it all of two songs before the f-bombs drove me to change the music. Therefore, my brain made a stressed/not-that-good association with the music, one that lingered for a couple of days before I got a chance to queue it up again. And the second time, my experience was so different that I wasn't even sure I was listening to the same album - yes, the fucks were still there, but it was also GOOD, better than I expected. Rhapsody tells me that the record was released as a mixtape in 2011, and that this is its commercial release, and the extremely minimal poking-around I did on the Internet before I decided I couldn't hack it anymore turned up the opinion that this album fits in nicely with the 2011 phenomenon of dark and paranoid R&B. And while I will grant that this record is darker and less polished than I've come to expect from The-Dream, it's also the most personal album he's released, so much so that the first half of it comes across as an embittered breakup masterpiece before it transitions into the more lighthearted second half. And when Nash decides to go all Dear-Diary on the listener, he does it with panache, pairing hurt, difficult lyrics with dark 'n' fancy beats.
For me, most of the highlights on this record came from the first half, partially 'cause I'm a sucker for some broken-hearted, masochistic shit. "Wake Me When It's Over" has much darker, dreamier feel than I'm used to from The-Dream's music, with fuzzy clouds of distortion and synth behind the tale of tortured love ("I love the way you smell/But you're always on some bullshit/Love how your body feels/Why must we do this"). "Used To Be" has an echoing clap and layers of synths over a muted old-timey organ sound and some of the most poignant and gritty lyrics on the thing ("Stop fuckin' with me/Woman/Stop fuckin' with me/Woman"), and my probable favorite comes in the form of "Long Gone", which starts with what I can only call a darkly-electricized Spanish guitar riff, then adds a quiet but explosive skipping beat to compliment it. And I would be remiss not to mention at least one of the party tracks, the best of which is "Real" featuring Pharrell, a lesson in how a swagger track should be done with an insistent clanging beat and waves of distortion that ends with a rock-star electric guitar interlude (it also includes mad-swaggery lyrics like "Nigga spending money like I just won a settlement/Ever seen a nigga buy a Porche off the Internet/You ever seen a nigga buy a house from the toilet/Add a boat to the cart click yes/Bought it"). Basically, The-Dream is still on top of his game, and still making some of the most exciting R&B out there. Furthermore, anyone who would buy a house while taking a shit is okay in my book - provided, of course, he's not taking a shit on a fifteen-year-old girl or anything... All righty then, this post is getting weird so I should probably go. Sorry, Jerry.