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Album review: The-Dream, "Love King"

the dreamThe-Dream has penned plenty of hits for others. Now it's his turn to shine on his own.

By Chris Richards

The high-fructose R&B of Terius "The-Dream" Nash has become so synonymous with summer, it now rivals the Slurpee. It's cool. It's syrupy. It's impossible to dislike. But too much can give you headache.

Only recently have we dislodged the indelible "ella-ella-ella" refrain of Rihanna's 2007 summer smash "Umbrella" from our collective brain tissue, a megahit that made the songwriter one of the most coveted in pop music. As for his Beyoncé hit "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," you'll hear it at every wedding you attend for the rest of your life.

But this summer, The-Dream is taking a little me-time with his third solo album, "Love King." It's a collection of fizzy love songs that sound a whole lot like the fizzy love songs that populate The-Dream's first two albums. Which is to say: They're awesome. Four more years of consistency this monolithic and he'll be the AC/DC of R&B.

His voice is R. Kelly on a hit of helium or Prince stricken with echolalia, the compulsion to repeat words. When you hear a pinched male falsetto pulsing from your radio, radio, radio, you're hearing The-Dream, The-Dream, The-Dream.

But from The-Dream's lungs, those echoed syllables become incredibly powerful hooks- melodic micro-mantras that colonize the mind with an unparalleled tenacity.

They work their strange magic during the chorus of "Make Up Bag," a song whose narrator returns home reeking of another woman's perfume. He saves himself from a night on the couch by following a dubious piece of advice that combines double-entendre, slang and oodles of repetition: "If you ever make your girlfriend mad, don't let your good girl go bad / Drop five stacks on the make up bag."

The double-entendre? The makeup bag, a designer handbag purchased to make amends. The slang? Five stacks, meaning $5,000. The oodles of repetition?

"The make up bag."

"The make up bag."

"The make up bag."

"The make up bag."

"The make up bag."

"The make up bag."

"The make up bag."

"The make up bag."

Along with this lyrical hypnosis comes wonderful pop-synthesis. Across the album's dozen tracks, The-Dream blends power-ballad schmaltz with post-crunk brio to create a potent brew.

And it all tastes deliciously artificial. With "F.I.L.A." (shorthand for "fall in love again"), the horn section is a glassy digital approximation while the bass runs thick and gummy, as if squeezed from tube. For all The-Dream lacks as a lyricist, he compensates for it as a sonic architect.

That's apparent on "February Love." For the first verse, he coos over little more than a tick-tocking piano. His musings range from the tender ("[I would] do anything for a just fraction of you") to the muddled ("If I'm attention, be my center"). Before total confusion sets in, the beat drops - a precise, thudding drum pattern that's as intricate as it is forceful.

"Abyss" explores forlorn territory, aiming to crank up the waterworks of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" to monsoon levels. Over Euro-pop synths, The-Dream sends his ex a strange kiss-off: "Cry 'til you drown your face." Sure it's nonsensical, but is it not sincere? This is the kind of sad-sack blubbering that can come only from a heart so freshly broken it's still in shock.

But The-Dream knows he's at his best when it comes to the feel-good stuff. The album's superlative title track paints the singer as a libertine pursuing love in every setting: at church, at the bank, on campus, at the Target checkout line. His lyrics feel like R. Kelly-style mischief, rated PG-13. The song's euphoric chord progressions feel like summertime pop personified.

But as intoxicating as this song - and many others on "Love King" - might be, you must fight the urge to listen to it a gajillion times in a row. Remember that Slurpee headache. To binge on The-Dream is to suffer the hangover - those persistent syllables pinballing inside your skull, over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over . . .

Recommended Tracks: "Love King," "Make Up Bag," "February Love"

By David Malitz  |  June 29, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  
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