The-Dream, aka Terius Nash, has dropped the third installment of what can now be viewed as a trilogy of albums chronicling the delicate art of sexual conquest. Various methods of acquiring and securing booty are employed on Love King in much the same ways they were on 2007’s Love Hate and last year’s Love vs Money; ladies of interest are wooed by the promise of sexual bliss, material wealth and the-Dream’s pure swag, and what follows–whether the expansion of the empire or the loss of a strategic partner–is expressed against a backdrop of lush, maximalist R&B grooves that recall every pop and R&B master from the last two decades.
But Love King starts off grander, with a trifecta of near-perfect pop songs, and ends up being even more theatrical and dramatic in scope than his previous efforts. For starters, the title track doesn’t settle on just one love prospect; instead, we’ve got our king lounging on his golden throne and surrounded by a harem of ladies of every imaginable provenance. While Dream lists his diverse conquests with deuteronomical precision, an organ stridently clanks up a crunk-ass scale and homies shout “oh,” (as they are wont to do on any track with this much libidinous confidence.) The epic scope of Dream’s love-game is further showcased on album thesis “Sex Intelligent,” where he explains “I make every n**** irrelevant/ I’m sex intelligent.” He then goes on to boast that his bangers reach bedrooms from “Japan to Pakistan and Beijing to Paris, France.”
Winning a lot means you have just that much more to lose, and Love King spends a lot of time bemoaning love lost, thwarted and eluded. On “Nikki,” a flame from Dream’s first album returns to haunt him and his current lover. Thin, tinkling synths appropriately recall Prince on a track that gets its name from the song “Darling Nikki.” The album then seamlessly transitions into “Abyss,” a stand-out track that lyrically plunders the depths of petty, post-breakup cruelty (“Cry till you drown your face/ bitch, i could give a damn how harsh this may seem”). But this song is also the most notable example of The-Dream’s skills as a sonic architect: sharp flourishes of strings and keys flit on the upper register, while bass-heavy synths and a sludge of electric guitar pummel on in the lower depths. Then, ridiculously, “Abyss” ends with the sound of rain and thunder!
The songs weave in and out of bedrooms and relationships, and the Love King is seen in various states of triumph and vulnerability; it’s this wide emotional range and yet single-minded topical focus that places Nash in the same lineage as his heroes/forebears R Kelly and Prince. Like these musical freaks who conjured an entire ouevre from the tales of exploits, Nash uses R&B as practically a devotional genre in which each falsettoed moan, fuckable bass thump, and tender piano flourish is a crucial building block for the Temple of Desire.
And yet, even after three studio albums and writing several mega-hits for Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Rihanna, The-Dream isn’t a household name. This has prompted some to wonder why Dream can’t achieve this kind of success with his own stuff. But this question is ultimately beside the point; The-Dream chooses to work within an aesthetically-specific form of sex jam. Why do we ask billboard hits of him when he has made us yet another seamless concept album about the minutiae of love and lust? The-Dream may never conquer the air-waves, but on Love King, he easily takes the crown as supreme earthly authority on all matters of the heart.