Tremaine (released March 24, 2017)
Although I go into every new album with an open mind – as any halfway decent music reviewer should – I must admit I was a bit skeptical of Trey Songz’s seventh solo LP.
Mainly because it seemed that Trey himself was skeptical.
Despite tons of press about his new reality show and the launching of his next tour this summer, Trigga’s been relatively mum about this album outside of a couple Instagram posts and quietly released singles.
When an artist as vocal as Trey starts playing the shy guy (word to Diana King), red flags start flying. Besides, Trey is at a career crossroads. As we discussed on a recent edition of the YouKnowIGotSoulInStereo podcast, Trey finds himself at an awkward stage – still too young to be boxed into urban adult contemporary radio playlists, but way too old to be singing about pouring liquor on strippers in the club.
Maybe that’s why Trey’s Trigga persona takes a back seat on this musical journey, instead letting the more mature Tremaine take the wheel. While Trey doesn’t totally go Aaron Neville on us, he forgoes his usual debauchery for a more soulful sound – ironically, the same sound he cut his teeth on more than a decade ago.
What’s old becomes new again.
“The Prelude” really helps set the tone of the album – it’s the same Trey fans know, bragging about sweating weaves out and whatnot, but with a new sultry tone, one that bleeds directly into the first proper song, “Come Over.” Sounding like a cut from a mid-90s playlist, Trey croons apologetic lyrics over a sultry backdrop. It’s some of his best work in years.
“#1Fan” and “Playboy” almost make Trey sound like a changed man. Trey laments the fact that he’s “still kissing girls I don’t love, still stumbling out of the clubs” on the latter. “The Sheets … Still,” take the concept further, with Trey outright saying “this ain’t a ‘all up in your phone trying to see what’s going on’ love song.” No more smartphones, dumb ish, apparently. Trey’s not about drama, he’s about romance – a fact he emphasizes on the second half of the track, where his aching vocals depict a girl clawing his back like Wolverine as the ultimate sensual experience.
But Trey hasn’t totally abandoned his party ways, and unfortunately the album stumbles when he slips back into old habits. “Animal” is filled with predictable Tarzan and Jane metaphors, with Pulitzer-Prize winning lines like “I go ape on the donkey” while he brags about throwing his banana around.
Yes, that’s a real thing that happened.
“Priceless” and “What Are We Here For” aren’t as cringeworthy, but wind up being little more than forgettable pop tracks. That’s the story of the second half of Tremaine – a glut of tracks that aren’t necessarily bad, but don’t live up to their potential. “Games We Play” is pretty frustrating – a sorrowful cut that immediately finds its groove but fails to really make an impact. The upbeat “1×1” is fun but also doesn’t go anywhere, coming off like a catchy but unremarkable TV show theme song. The Latin-tinged “She’s Lovin It” is miles ahead of it.
Thankfully, the album closer “Break from Love” ends on a strong note. Over weepy strings and measured keys, Trey’s lyrics ring with sincerity: “First degree burns don’t leave scars, we can turn this around.”
Mature Trey might be my favorite Trey.
I still don’t understand why Tremaine was shortchanged on publicity leading up to its release. It’s Trey’s strongest release since 2010’s Passion, Pain & Pleasure but still falls short of his gold standard, 2009’s Ready.
Still, it serves me right for doubting Trey. He’s on his grown man now, and maturity suits him well.
Best tracks: “Come Over,” “Playboy,” “#1Fan”
3.5 stars out of 5