An original painting by Keith Haring covers the lobby at Germano Studios in downtown NYC, the artist's trademark exclamatory lines and dancing figures conveying a frenzied, emotive experience. On Monday night, that same feeling poured out of a cozy back room in one of the building's studios, where The-Dream, clad in head-to-toe Chicago Bulls gear and glistening diamonds, previewed his upcoming Love IV MMXII album. The singer-producer's first LP in two years (in an act of defiance against his label last summer, he released a mixtape, 1977, under his given name Terius Nash) is still missing a release date, and many of its tracks are in flux. But The-Dream was palpably eager to share the music that's been brewing.
Like its predecessors, Love IV blends braggadocio with seduction over heavily percussive, synth-driven soundscapes. The-Dream also seems to have grown as a singer since his last effort; there's more power behind his falsetto. "Roc," the album's bouncy lead single released in January, is an irresistibly bright number about, of course, rocking your body - in this instance, from "left to right, side to side." It's a springtime pleaser that serves as a fitting introduction to the rest of The-Dream's new material. Among the highlights:
"Foreplay": A nostalgic mid-tempo number with electric guitars and thumping percussion that begs for comparisons to The-Dream's freaky-R&B forebear, R. Kelly.
"Equestrian": Ginuwine's "Pony" gets a redux with pounding drums. "I love the way you ride/Equestrian," The-Dream croons, his falsetto blending effortlessly over the beat. He even toys with his lower register, a welcome distraction from the song's hackneyed "Giddy up" outro. During this listening session, The-Dream closed his eyes and began winding and shimmying by himself to the track.
"Loving You": In which The-Dream loves so hard, it becomes downright aggressive. Vocals, synths, guitars and yearning lyrics undulate together to the brink of insanity, and yet it never sounds cacophonous. "I can't take all the credit, the cocaine had a lot to do with it," The-Dream mused afterward, presumably joking.
"Slow It Down": "I know they ain't gonna play this on Top 40 radio," The-Dream dares on this strip club-ready song about rolling, grinding and myriad other forms of gyration.
"Divine," featuring Mary J. Blige: Booming theatrics lead off one of the album's most introspective cuts. "As the seats recline/This is divine," The-Dream murmurs, contemplating success. Blige provides only ancillary vocal coos over lush violins, creating an airy effect.
"Paid," featuring Gucci Mane: Kickstarted with a sample from the gangster flick New Jack City (Nino Brown's famous quote: "The fruit of our hard work/Am I my brother's keeper?"), "Paid" is a requisite hip-hop banger about balling with just $100 in your pocket. Gucci Mane delivers a formidable verse: "If I could/I'd give a hug to the money," he croaks. "I think I was doing that while I was doing crack," The-Dream laughed while playing the track.
"Katrina": A masculine counterpart to Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable," this chest-pounding, unfinished song encourages men to move on from bad relationships. "This is strictly for my niggas," The-Dream croons – though, to be fair, the women present found the song to be irresistible.
"Talk That Shit": Cue the subliminal shots! "Talk That Shit" is a veiled jab at new-generation R&B weirdos who have been heavily influenced by The-Dream's style. "Y'all niggas so disrespectful remixing my own shit," he blasts before jumping into a medley of his hits, from "Fancy" to "Shawty Is a 10." Although The-Dream wouldn't reveal any specific names, chatter during the session implied that "Bed" singer J. Holiday and The Weeknd were possible targets.
"Y'all": "If this ain't the realest thing I ever wrote," sings The-Dream on this markedly sensitive, vulnerable number, where he spills his guts about his oft-beleaguered reputation as an artist, father and man. The self-anointed "Superman" admits that, yes, even he has flaws – "Sometimes even my cape needs dry cleaning" – before making peace with himself, concluding, "Crucify me if you want, but I won't stop loving y'all."