Love vs Money
, April 2nd, 2009 12:37
You might not know Terius "The-Dream" Nash by name, but you know him by his work: the Atlanta songwriter, producer and singer is the man behind a litany of R&B hits including Rihanna's 'Umbrella', Mariah Carey's 'Touch My Body' and Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)'. Often, it does not do to pull the curtain back on such men. Too many times, all that is revealed is a Wizard of Oz figure, adept at pulling strings and putting on a show, but unimpressive when thrust into the spotlight. But if anything, The-Dream's artistic vision proves even more tightly focused when he goes solo, his on-record persona even more coherent.
His debut album, an expansive, baroque state-of-the-heart suite entitled Love/Hate, snuck out at the end of 2007, quickly gaining The-Dream something of a cult following. Love vs Money is an even more ambitious effort which finds The-Dream pulling all the stops out to deliver a palindromic song cycle of seduction, rejection, recrimination and ultimately - maybe - validation. As on Love/Hate, the tension between the character The-Dream likes to project - the cocky, preening, slightly lecherous lothario - and the reality of who he is - a slightly bug-eyed chump - proves fruitful. He's more than aware of this, and on ‘Put It Down’ manages to encapsulate it in one terrific line: "If they ask you, can I sing like Usher, say, 'No'; but I can make you sing like Mariah - 'Ooooh!'"
The obvious inference is that The-Dream's bedroom skills will have the object of his affections crying out for more, but considered in the light of his history, he may as well be promising that he can literally turn her into a singer like Mariah Carey. You see, The-Dream is a genius in the studio, a man who takes all the best tricks passed down to him from Prince, Babyface, R. Kelly and Timbaland, adds his own glitz, glamour, magic, and turns them into epic space jams of astonishing largesse. Opener ‘Rockin' That Shit’ exemplifies this: built around a massive synth riff, it rolls majestically out like a red carpet, lavish and luxurious.
He's confident in this genius: it's brought him money, respect, access to the most elite of celebrities. For half the album, he parades these before his paramour - Kanye! Mariah! Both performing on The-Dream's immaculately crafted seduction jams, tonight, just for you! - and for a while, it works. The pay-off is ‘Sweat It Out’, a shrine to carnality focused on mussing up a paramour's hair. As opening lines go, "Call Leticia, your beautician/Cuz your hair is gon' need fixing" has few rivals; but it's the sudden realisation that "she got it fixed just so I could fuck it up" that catapults the song up to its next-level climax, a chorale of affirmatives backing The-Dream as he casts aside his patina of smoothness, and sets about his task with abandon. "Girl whip it! Whip it! Flip it! Flip it!"
But can being a genius in the studio ever be enough? The mood soon palls. The most ear-catching tracks on Love vs Money are its two title tracks, a double centrepiece mulling over a soured relationship, and with them, the album twists on its axis. ‘Part 1’ is an electric storm of self-recrimination: The-Dream blames himself for being more concerned with spending money than loving his girl, and wallows in his broken heart amid melodramatic strings, machine-gun beats and tectonic synths which shift like the rug pulled from under your feet. On ‘Part 2’, bitterness takes hold: "Didn't hear you scream 'no' when you was trickin' off my money," he spits. A stately, martial rhythm and quasi-Gregorian multi-tracked chorales accompany The-Dream as, head held high, he heads towards the safety of the moral high ground, but even as the backing orchestra reaches its own climax, the mask falls, and The-Dream slips into spiteful doubletime recriminations.
After nine minutes of all that stürm und drang, Fancy initially seems like respite: a long, slow exhalation. But this is the real core of Love vs Money: the understanding, the resolution, the acceptance of how things are and will be. "She came from nothing - can't fault her from wanting something," The-Dream croons, and slips into a Great Gatsbyesque paean to aspiration. Electric piano chords shimmer beautifully, like a mirage; an accordion enters as The-Dream and his girl sip wine in Paris, and continues to drift sadly through the romantic reverie even as the reunited couple indulge in "trips to Monaco, designer names from head to toe". In the song's last minute, strings trill and birds sing as The-Dream finds a skip in his step again, high on his success at winning his girl back; the introduction of the song's beat in its closing 20 seconds is a stroke of genius.
The album's final three tracks provide a suitably ambiguous conclusion to the drama. ‘Right Side Of My Brain’, another astonishingly large post-Babyface production in which The-Dream deliberately sets aside any rational qualms regarding the relationship - and then ‘Mr Yeah’, the return of the wisecracking, shit-talking The-Dream with a litany of comic similes ("She said all these niggas be poppin' that bullshit/But I be in it like a preacher in a pulpit"), as if nothing had ever happened. It's undercut in its own conclusion, a gentle, pleading, "You can always come back..." - which in turn is undercut by the sudden crassness of a spoken "Can we fuck now?" When they do, The-Dream proves more concerned that the CD they fuck to - R. Kelly's 12 Play - is scratched, but even that scenario sets himself up for the ultimate validation: instead, his partner puts on his own debut album instead. We end up where we started: the backroom boy who feared that his musical talent and pots of money wouldn't be enough to keep the girl has wound up winning her back with, well, his musical talent and pots of money. (No coincidence that one of The-Dream's producer stamps is to sing "The American Dream" over a song's intro.) But it's how the wheel turns, endlessly and inevitably, which is what compels about Love vs Money.