And so our top 10 gets just that bit less varied…
John Seroff: R. Kelly really steps up to the plate here with this minimalist slow jam with just a hint of absurdity. There’s a whiff of throwback here as well; Kells’ voice is slightly rejuvenated and, if not as versatile, as limber as it’s ever been. As with of the best of his work, Kelly is expert in vacillating between corny vernacular and the truly moving; the sweet repetition on “the love we make” is genuinely affecting. The leaden bloat of overproduction and unoriginality evident on junk singles like “#1” is nowhere to be found here. An excellent return to form (NB: Hype Machine and Sharebee types should be aware that this is showing up all over the web mislabeled as a track by The-Dream. I’ve always considered The-Dream’s solo work in this vein to be a pale imitation of Kells at its best and cough syrup at its worst. If this really WERE The-Dream, I’d be forced to capitulate on a lot of catty grumbling I’ve directed Terius’ way over the years and to finally admit that he really can give the Pied Piper a run for his money. Anyways, just relabel the track info so that it’s properly attributed when you download. I’d appreciate it).
Al Shipley: If this scores lower than his last two starpower-fueled duds that were massively overrated on this here site, I’m sure you can scroll down to find me pitching a fit about it. Finally, he’s back to the low key workmanlike radio jams that made his first album a sleeper hit instead of shooting for big name synergy.
Matt Cibula: This is a lesson in sexual need, in storytelling economy, and in the dynamics of black hair. It jumped off the album in a big way and deserves to do no less on the radio.
Chuck Eddy: By now, connoissuers around these parts seem so unanimous in claiming he’s some kind of genius that I’m wondering both whether I’m being willful in “not getting him” and whether, by now, I’d be just as willful if I suddenly did get him. With this particular song, I’ll take a wild guess that the attraction is that he’s got a spare sound, and some of the specific come-on lines are borderline clever, and he gets intense toward the end, which is supposed to be jarring, as perhaps also are those grunted “hey”s toward the start, maybe? But I’m honestly not sure. I can sort of hear all that, but I doubt I’d notice any of it if others’ approval didn’t make listening hard for what’s good a moral imperative. And none of it makes up for how the song really fucking drags, has no concrete hooks to grab on to, and revolves around a falsetto that never transcends the mediocre into anything especially beautiful or emotive. So, uh, it’s “interesting.” I guess.
Hillary Brown: Look, maybe I am just an old married person (and I am), but this song is both crazy cozy and totally hot, just not too hot. It’s not actually sweaty. It’s just like warm and fuzzy and nice.
Alex Ostroff: “Girl, call Leticia your beautician,” The-Dream instructs, “‘Cause your hair is gon’ need fixin’.” Raves about Terius usually focus on his lush and rewarding soundscapes, but equally important to his appeal are his consistently fascinating takes on the standard tropes of R&B. “Sweat It Out” is quite possibly the oddest (and most romantic) sex jam of 2009. The-Dream simultaneously brags that his loving is so good it will sweat out his girlfriend’s freshly-straightened hair, and assuages her doubts with the promise of an all-expenses-paid visit to the barber. During the bridge, he reveals that this is just part of a larger fetish: “I know that it’s intentional/She got it fixed just so I could fuck it up”. A cycle of fixing and fucking, control and abandon, floating over beats so pillowy that it never feels creepy – simply par for the course in The-Dream’s odd world of kinky courtship and romance.
Dave Moore: The key to this song is that the structure mimics the subject — and it’s a QUICKIE; that first part is talking her into it at all. I’m not totally comfortable with the aural climax (and, um, birthday cake — “you know you ain’t right” indeed, that is FILTHY) but I like that when the moment arrives, all he can say is “ooooooh-woo-woo!” Which is to say that this is probably the funniest song about fucking I’ve heard all year.
Rodney J. Greene: One of Terius’ most underrated skills is his knack for taking one specific thing about love-making and writing a fuck jam that makes every possible observation there is to be said about that subject, whether it be his partner’s lipstick or the CD setting the mood. “Sweat It Out” is the culmination of his apparent fetish for mussed hair. Where on Love/Hate, Dreamer just played in her hair and promised, “You got your hair done/ I’m about to mess that shit up,” here he shows more tenderness and foresight, advising her to “Call up Tisha, your beautician/ Cause your hair is gon’ need fixin’,” underscored by the buoyant waterbed of synths. Things do get rougher by the climactic bridge-into-BIGGER BRIDGE, where he encourages her to “Whip it! Whip it!/ Flip it! Flip it!,” but that only leaves room to come down for his sweetest moment of all; the closing lines, “Thank you for the birthday cake/ Look at you, lookin’ like a milkshake,” mark this as a more subtle and believable celebration than “Birthday Sex” itself.
Alfred Soto: Most of the tricks that charmed on their first album have tried my patience this time. Lately I prefer their cyborg-soul when divas like Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey mesh their operating systems with Terius and Tricky’s. Likewise this assemblage of quips, polysyllables, grunts, and robo-harmonies would feel more urgent sweated out by a real singer.
Martin Skidmore: He says his next album will be his last: I do think his great talents don’t include singing, so that makes some sense to me. On this sexy slow jam, he sounds as thin as ever. I’m not even sure I like the production so much – there’s some perky high notes bouncing about in the background at times that seem very out of place.
John M. Cunningham: The-Dream gets plenty of props for his “minimalist” production style, but I appreciate that his aesthetic isn’t just a knock-off of the stark, cavernous Timbaland sound. On “Sweat It Out,” for instance, as with the earlier “I Luv Your Girl,” there’s an appealing daintiness, with the sing-song vocals wafting feather-like down the scale. And though the song eventually builds to a no-abandon chest-thumping bridge, it’s made more effective by the overall sense of restraint.
Jordan Sargent: On Love vs. Money, The-Dream turned R&B into high-class cinema, but “Sweat It Out” represents something much more simple and pure. It’s a top-notch sex ballad, plain and simple, indebted to R. Kelly instead of Pavarotti. But of course, that sells the song -— and Terius as a songwriter -— short, as it stands out in both his own catalog and the modern R&B canon as a singular work of intense beauty, catchiness and humor.
Michaelangelo Matos: Let’s just say that I understand this song a lot better now having seen Chris Rock’s Good Hair last night.