Album Review: Trey Songz ‘Chapter V’
The album cover for Chapter V is anything but romantic or sexy, which are two words I would use to describe the content, even if they are sometimes in conflict with one another. The artwork depicts a series of five Treys stood in formation in a black and white photo, ruggedly textured and distressed, behind a scratched, blood-red number five. It brings to mind violence, and maybe prison, not tits and ass, and certainly not a tender or introspective message of personal growth.
But this is an album of personal conflict, and maybe the cover is an accurate look at the mental state of Trey Songz, who after five albums has earned his first “Parental Advisory” sticker.
The song ‘Chapter V’ is explicitly sexual, and that this is used to introduce the album is telling– though it might also be misleading. The feeling is soft and ambient, but there is nothing necessarily romantic about the music. It’s more of a trance state, if anything, which is a bit of a weird way to court a woman, but to each his own. It’s only a short intro, but the next few songs have a similar theme and tone.
‘Dive In’ makes every attempt not to directly say that it is essentially an ode to vaginas, which is almost comical, and it feels more like a Flight of the Conchords song than it probably should. At one point he repeats the word “backstroke, backstroke, backstroke,” which gives a very strange visual. If ‘Dive In’ would like to believe that it is in any way clever or subtle, the third track has no such ambition, as the sound of flowing water continues and transitions into ‘Panty Wetter’. The fact that this song is ostensibly the same as the last, but without any feigned pretense, actually makes it quite a lot less crude, or at least less silly. A line like “You ain’t gotta take ‘em off, just put ‘em to the side,” might seem boorish, but at least he means it.
‘Heart Attack’ seems to be about love, of all things. From here the album begins a transition away from its sex obsession, which is why I said that the title track might be a bit misleading. By the end of this record the listener is not presented with a sordid tale of lust and longing, but one of regret, heartbreak and even moral reform. ‘Playin’ Hard’ is a post-breakup song, and by now it does seem like this album has a flow and a narrative running through it, which is pretty surprising.
Tracks six through nine aim to get the album’s collaborations out of the way all at once, with the exception of the last track which features Meek Mill and Diddy. ‘2 Reasons’ is a slightly more rhythmic song than the rest so far, and unfortunately it doesn’t stand out very much in spite of that, though T.I.’s presence may be enough to make this one a single. ‘Hail Mary’ features Lil’ Wayne, making it an instant disaster for half of us (myself among them) and the highlight of the album for everyone else. ‘Don’t Be Scared’ with Rick Ross isn’t bad, but it definitely wants to be a better song than it is. It feels like this segment of the album really is about getting these tracks over and done with to add a bit of star power.
One song that stands out in the middle of the record is ‘Pretty Girls Lie’, showcasing a much larger, more epic feeling. It actually feels like a natural conclusion to an album, though there are still 10 songs to go. It’s a great tune, and even though it focuses on a very simple notion (that attractive people are dicks), there is a lot more to it than may be evident on the first listen.
‘Bad Decisions’ seems to be about Trey regretting his womanizing ways. Sort of. The tail end of the album plays with the notion of this kind of regret, but it’s regret for exactly the sort of thing he was boasting about in the first half. Listening to those early songs over again it really does seem celebratory, rather than cautionary, so a change of heart in the second act doesn’t strike me as particularly genuine. You can’t simultaneously boost your image as a womanizing playboy while legitimately being enlightened and feeling the burden of those mistakes. I mean, it’s a great trick which will surely get one laid by an entirely new class of lady, but it just isn’t realistic.
‘Simply Amazing’ has the same epic feeling ‘Pretty Girls Lie’ did, but this one is guitar-driven, bringing about another unexpected, though fleeting shift for the record. Tracks like these– and we’ll add ‘Never Again’ to the list– seem to be a cut above the rest, appealing to me a whole lot more than Trey’s simpler songs. Done differently it would be the other way around, but his typical music is just too easily ignored, while these few standouts demand attention.
Chapter V might have something of a personality disorder. Maybe Trey Songz’ transformation and repentance is genuine, but he doesn’t seem to want to say that very clearly. The album goes on a little long, and there is a deluxe version which could have scraped off another track or two from the standard release, but overall this package presents a surprisingly consistent narrative and comes together very well in the end.
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Image Courtesy of Atlantic