Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

The-Dream – Sweat It Out

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.

28 Responses to “The-Dream – Sweat It Out”

  1. Well! It’s better than “My Love.”

  2. Hang on is the beautician’s name Leticia or Tisha? THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, I FEEL. I always assumed it was the former.

    I said my piece on “Sweat It Out” over at Fact, if cross-platform promotion is appropriate. (The-Dream would think so.)

  3. Ummm, holy shit Lex. My mind did not go there, and I don’t think I’m happier for having had it taken there.

    Anyway, on closer listening, I think “Call Leticia” is the correct lyric.

  4. Oh LORD. That makes sense but is so very very…um. I don’t think I will forget that interpretation quickly, unfortunately.

  5. What on earth did you think the milkshake line was about?!

  6. “By now, connoisseurs around these parts seem so unanimous in claiming he’s some kind of genius”

    Yeah, he’s not. I appreciate that he’s doing something a little more interesting than run of the mill pop r&b, he does have a spare sound, he clearly has listened to a lot of Timbo-produced JT and Prince, and he is sweet and likable, has way more of a personality than Ne-Yo or some other folks. But though he may be better than 95% of what his genre has to offer, his songs are structurally inchoate, are not particularly memorable or distinguishable from each other, and no, he’s not R Kelly.

  7. Well no, he’s better than R Kelly ever was.

  8. In what way? (Hell, I’m not even convinced he’s as good as Ne-Yo, who sings a lot prettier, for one thing. But I clearly have a major blindspot when it comes to the guy. Have no idea what all this Leticia/Tisha/milkshake junk is about, either.)

  9. Was John’s blurb just wry, or is this really an R Kelly track?

  10. Guys… I really don’t know about this. I like R Kelly emulating Terius, I love Electrik Red channelling Terius, but now I’ve actually got round to listening to Terius himself (yes I know I’m a bit behind here) it’s something of an anti-climax. Am I missing something?

  11. ham on wry

  12. Kat, you’re missing that there are nine or ten songs better than this on the album, and that The-Dream eventually explodes every scenario he sets up anyway, and then reassembles on different terms, in anticipation of the next explosion, the assemblage/explosion enriching his entire output. Definitely a whole-is-more-than-parts deal. My album of the year, so far, though I still fundamentally think of the lovey-dovey stuff at the start (including “Sweat It Out”) as prologue.

    Chuck, the key word in Lex’s review seems to be “facial,” unless I’m misinterpreting something.

  13. “whole-is-more-than-parts deal”

    I think this is true of every double in our Top Ten at this point — I could (and have in a couple cases) justify a high-end score, but it really doesn’t convey the sense that in each case — Dream, Taylor, YYY’s, maaaaybe DJ Quik (haven’t actually gotten into this, though) — it’s impossible to divorce the experience of understanding the artist through the album and in some cases through the whole body of work from the experience of the song. In YYY’s case, I think one single happens to be their best song on their album, and one of the best they’ve done, but it still refuses to stand alone as a single (even though it sounds better out of the context of the album).

    Taylor’s the opposite — her songs on the new one have a way of seeming dense, sort of congealed together into a big song-mass, and seem to improve when they come up unexpectedly in new contexts on the radio. But when I think of “Fifteen,” I still think of the sort of arc of the rest of that album, all of the contradictions and qualifiers that will follow it, because it’s impossible for me not to. The-Dream is similar; I think this song is totally hilarious, but I also know that it’s leading to something.

    Also, Kat, this song could not possibly be more climactic.

  14. Rightly or wrongly, as somebody who never figured out how to follow the plot of Pink Floyd’s The Wall (or subsequent Queensyche and Radiohead approximations thereof), I tend to get skeptical whenever I hear “whole is more than the sum of the parts” album explanations. (What’s the old Dylan line about not caring about jazz because he you had to “follow” it to get it, and he didn’t believe in following anything?) And I’ve been getting the idea, from what people have been saying, that understanding what’s so great about The-Dream (or his new album in particular) requires a major investment. You really have to work hard for it, apparently. And so far, at least, the parts have struck me as uneventful or unpleasant enough that I’m not remotely convinced I’d like the whole if I ever got around to decoding it. (The fact that I have no use for convoluted inside jokes about “facials” may well have something to do with it. Though they might make me laugh if Rammstein did them, who knows.)

  15. That may have come off crankier to Frank than intended. (Also, the band’s name was spelled “Queensryche.”) (And I did like some Hold Steady concept album about a Catholic girl a few years ago, so there.) And obviously sometimes working hard to like certain music is worth it, in the long run. Guess it goes back to what I wrote above — I’m at a point where I almost don’t trust my own reactions to The-Dream’s music –in part because, if nobody was talking about him, I’m pretty sure I’d dismiss it as in-one-ear-out-the-other. But obviously that doesn’t mean I might not be missing something.

  16. Dave is spot on about those artists (well, at least Taylor and The-Dream for me) and the importance of the body of work. It’s not difficult, I don’t need to invest anything, but the genius of Swift is, in listening to ‘Fearless’, how the songs communicate and disagree with eachother. With the The-Dream it’s also true, but in a different way, his album just feels like one big suite to me with different movements and moods and motifs.

  17. I do agree with Dave that Taylor’s songs “seem to improve when they come up unexpectedly in new contexts on the radio.” My opinion of the album, which I initially found really dull up against her debut, has increased with almost every subsequent single. But I still don’t notice a narrative arc — it’s just a bunch of songs, some better than others. Which is probably how I hear 99 percent of albums I’ve ever liked.

  18. …which isn’t to suggest songs can’t comment on each other, or artists can’t be self-reflexive or self-contradictory (on purpose or by accident), or that I don’t notice it, because obviously they can, and I do. But still, I almost never hear pop or rock albums as a “suite.” In 25 years and thousands of reviews, I’m not sure I’ve ever complimented or complained about the “pacing” of songs, for instance (though I’m sure a few times I’ve been gratified that an artist was considerate enough to group the best or worst songs together, making them easier to access or ignore on a merely practical level.)

  19. The thing with Love vs. Money is that it doesn’t require much investment to “get” the narrative arc b/c Terius makes it all rather obvious, sonically as well as lyrically. Even if you only confine the straight-up plot to the album’s mid-section, you still get the journey there and back.

    “More than the sum of its parts” is a misleading term; the songs certainly take on new shapes and new life in the context of the album, but they’re all excellent stand-alone entities too. If you’re not into the sound, I don’t think appreciating the plot will help.

  20. lol u guys argued with Tray

  21. ^^this

  22. Well, more than sum of the parts probably works for any artist I give a shit about for more than two or three works; which is to say that the parts can’t help comment on each other. The Beatles Second Album works better as a concept album than Sgt. Pepper’s does, and not only isn’t it an actual concept album, it was made of scraps thrown together by U.S. record company Capitol after Capitol’s having initially missed the boat several months earlier. But parts-producing-greater-sum especially works with The-Dream because his impulses seem to be at war with each other,* not just the lyrics [which are obviously and explicitly disjointed between tracks seven and eight of the album] but his whole conflicted attitude towards musical lushness, which seems to echo his attitude towards opulence in general. But then, if his voice was remotely as good as Michael Jackson’s none of this would be an issue (and I think MJ is at least as crucial a predecessor as R. Kelly); but then, speaking of pieces parts, I listen to The-Dream in the context of Bobbie Gentry (in that as Lex pointed out Terius may be the benevolent man that Bobbie’s Fancy hooks up with, though perhaps this is just wonderful coincidence) and also in the context of the other MJ (Jagger) who also made much of his contrary impulses, though again if The-Dream were singing as well as Jagger did on Aftermath we wouldn’t be having this argument.

    But yeah, you do have to care about the parts for any of this to take hold.

    *As it does with Aly & AJ, and they’ve gone nowhere near concept albums or narrative arcs (unless Acoustic Hearts Of Winter, being a Xmas album, counts as a concept album, and its final song, being a final song, counts as creating a narrative arc).

  23. I have a conflicted attitude towards the subjunctive, apparently.

  24. :Yeah, he’s not. I appreciate that he’s doing something a little more interesting than run of the mill pop r&b, he does have a spare sound, he clearly has listened to a lot of Timbo-produced JT and Prince, and he is sweet and likable, has way more of a personality than Ne-Yo or some other folks. But though he may be better than 95% of what his genre has to offer, his songs are structurally inchoate, are not particularly memorable or distinguishable from each other, and no, he’s not R Kelly.”

    did not know geir hongro read the singles jukebox

  25. I don’t think jazz has ever appealed to the younger generation. Anyway, I don’t really know who this younger generation is. I don’t think they could get into a jazz club anyway. But jazz is hard to follow; I mean you actually have to like jazz to follow it; and my motto is, never follow anything. I don’t know what the motto of the younger generation is, but I would think they’d have to follow their parents. I mean, what would some parent say to his kid if the kid came home with a glass eye, a Charlie Mingus record, and a pocketful of feathers? He’d say, “Who are you following?” And the poor kid would have to stand there with water in his shoes, a bow tie on his ear, and soot pouring out of his belly button and say, “Jazz, Father, I’ve been following jazz.” And his father would probably say, “Get a broom and clean up all that soot before you go to sleep.” The the kid’s mother would tell her friends, “Oh yes, our little Donald, he’s part of the younger generation, you know.”
    –Bob Dylan, interviewed by Nat Hentoff in Playboy, March 1966

  26. This is why jazz is better than Bob Dylan.

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