Love King

Terius ‘The-Dream’ Nash seems to be one those of people who can turn their hand to anything and succeed. If you’re going to announce yourself to the world, there are few better ways of doing it than by creating a gargantuan worldwide pop smash in the shape of ‘Umbrella’, giving it to Rihanna and then watching it top charts all over the planet. The mammoth success of that collaboration led Nash to a record deal with Def Jam and subsequent productions with the likes of Usher, Ciara, Mary J Blige, and a resurgent Mariah Carey. On top of all that, Nash has found the time to record three solo albums in four years, with another on the way in 2011. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that all his extra-curricular activities might have some impact on his solo output but, so far at least, there haven’t been any problems. 2007’s Love Hate was a good album but served better as an introduction to a nascent talent, a young man clearly on the rise but still finding his niche. 2009’s Love vs. Money, however, was brilliant, an audacious and meticulously crafted pop masterclass that served to alert listeners to what would become Nash’s trademarks: flawless, buttery smooth production, a verbal dexterity and fondness for wordplay unmatched by any of his peers. That’s not to mention an innate understanding of the pop formula, which he could either adhere to or subvert at will, at one moment crafting stone cold killer hooks and the next switching the template upside down and rolling out sonically remarkable snippets of sound that made the likes of Timbaland seem even more out of touch than they already were.

In terms of subject matter, there only ever seems to really be one thing on Nash’s mind: sex, and lots of it. Love vs. Money, for all its undeniable brilliance, at times seemed slightly too much like a bedroom soundtrack, something so sex-obsessed that one could have imagined even R Kelly turning it down for being too raunchy. What made it work, though, was that it was Nash’s own auto eroticism; as much he borrowed from the likes of Prince, it was easily identifiable as his own work. On Love King it seems fairly safe to say that The-Dream hasn’t quite shaken that bedroom fixation off yet. A quick glance at the tracklist (sample song titles: ‘Sex Intelligent’, ‘Panties to the Side’) suggests as much and repeat listens confirm it: it’s about all kinds of sex. Sex in the car, sex in the kitchen, sex in the bedroom, affairs, break-ups, make-ups. It feels like spending an hour in R Kelly’s head, swimming through endless pools of naked women, satin sheets draping down from the mirrored ceilings above. If sex wasn’t on your mind before listening to the album, there’s absolutely no doubt that it will be after.

It’s all well and good sharing the same subject matter, but is Love King as great as Love vs. Money? The answer, simply, would be no. That’s not to say that it isn’t a very good album, it just doesn’t have the same freshness as its predecessor, the same jaw-to-the-floor wow factor. It’s an inevitable side effect of striking gold so early on: you’re always trying to find something bigger and better than before, but it’s nigh on impossible when you started so brilliantly. Love King does have moments, however, where it more than capably stands up to its gleaming older brother. The outstanding one-two of ‘Yamaha’ and ‘Nikki pt. 2’ are especially captivating, the former pulling off the unique trick of sounding like some lost track from the ‘Sign o’ the Times’ sessions whilst still retaining Nash’s unique aural imprint, whilst the latter is a pining love letter of a song, torn between wanting an old girlfriend back and yearning to start afresh. It’s refrain of "Shortie, we were the greatest/in the midst of all the haters/then you switched it all up on me/you used to be my homie" might seem rather trite written down but out of Nash’s mouth it effortlessly echoes the trials and tribulations of any relationship, summarising the love and hate and longing that are part and parcel of any union. It’s a touching moment among all the sex talk, one that shows a human side to Nash far away from the arch seducer he portrays himself as on other tracks. It sounds like 12 Play era R Kelly without the overt sexuality, or a present day take on Boyz II Men, the narrative framed with a delicate simplicity, Nash’s velvet voice sidling up alongside finger clicks, twinkling synths and sparsely placed drum machine hits to create an enduring and universal portrait of romance gone awry.

Though the likes of ‘Abyss’ (which sounds like Justified-era Justin Timberlake, coming on like a companion piece to ‘Cry Me A River’), ‘Florida University’, the sprawling ‘February Love’ (which might have been what Axl Rose had created instead of ‘November Rain’ were he into minimal R&B rather than stadium bombast), and ‘Panties to the Side’ (which, with its opening call of "Let me fuck you baby" sounds like a less unhinged but no more restrained Ying Yang Twins) are all fantastic, it’s ‘Yamaha’ which stands out by quite a distance. As Ryan Dombal recently noted "Calling out The-Dream for ripping off Prince is like calling out LCD Soundsystem for ripping off Bowie. It misses the point." Nash is making no effort to hide his inspirations, but rather filtering them into his own work, turning the blueprints laid down by his musical forefathers into creations of his own. It’s like the Hold Steady and Bruce Springsteen: it may sound incredibly similar, but it’s not plagiarism. It’s a genuine love for an outstanding catalogue of work, an homage to a much admired artist and a natural outpouring for someone who has clearly consumed so much by that one person or band that they can’t help but sound like them. It’s like going to a great restaurant and then going home and trying to recreate the dish: you’re never going to do it perfectly, but you’ll put your own spin on it, do something a little different and in the process create something just as good or even better than what inspired you in the first place. To put it more simply, ‘Yamaha’ is the best Prince song Prince never wrote, something at least on a par with his 80’s output, and perhaps better even than that.

Love King is an album which documents the next step on Nash’s path to world domination, a set with very few missteps and a few moments of genuine brilliance which set him so far apart from those around him it’s hard to see them ever catching up. It’s like watching Usain Bolt leave everyone else trailing: those he’s racing against might be world class, but technically they’re not even in the same league. Nash is reinventing his chosen genre with every step he takes, pushing boundaries in bold new directions and improving on the templates left for him by his illustrious predecessors. Love King is so effortlessly natural and elegant, so richly detailed and finely tuned, a proper Album with a capital A flowing from start to end, that’s it hard to imagine where he might go next. But wherever it might be, you always get the sense that there’ll be a long queue behind him, reaching out yet still getting nowhere near.

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