The awkward interviews. The harsh reviews. The disastrous Twitter Q&A in which he was asked why he continues “to be such a creep.”
Last week was not a good one for Robin Thicke, the R&B star whose widely pilloried new album “Paula” – about his attempt to win back his estranged wife, Paula Patton – could enter the Billboard chart on Wednesday with sales of 20,000 copies, according to some music-industry estimates. (Thicke’s previous record, last year’s “Blurred Lines,” debuted with 177,000.)
But as the old saying goes – well, sort of – a sinking ship lifts all the other boats floating in the same body of water.
So here comes Trey Songz, reportedly headed toward the No. 1 spot with what might the strongest album of his career. A soul-music journeyman known for his imaginative sex jams, Songz has established himself firmly in the R&B world; last week, while Thicke was busy melting down in public, Songz played high-profile gigs at L.A.’s BET Experience and the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Yet he’s never quite broken through to a mainstream audience, something he may finally be poised to do.
If that’s the case, he hasn’t cleaned up his act for prime time – and what a relief that is. “Trigga,” the singer’s sixth studio album, is delightfully raunchy, with bedroom talk that ranges from the efficiently straightforward to the impressively elaborate.
“Cake,” the disc’s opener, lands somewhere in the middle -- it’s an etymological inquiry wrapped in the most transparent of dessert-related metaphors. “They say you can’t have cake and eat it too,” he sings over a throbbing beat, “But ain’t that what you supposed to do?” Then, as though he were unable to resist one more slice, he adds, “Ain’t you supposed to eat it too?”
Elsewhere he details his predilection for women from other countries (“Foreign”), compares himself to a great white shark in a sea full of fish (“Late Night”) and admires the sight of a lover “cooking naked, eggs and some bacon” (“All We Do”). In “Touchin, Lovin,” with an appealingly filthy guest verse from Nicki Minaj, he outlines his plans for a seduction, moving through the actions advertised in the song’s title before borrowing an unprintable – and far more blunt -- phrase from the Notorious B.I.G.
Even at his crudest, though, Songz remains likable, a function of his pleading tenor as well as his savvy presentation. In “Change Your Mind” he takes up his reputation as the love-’em-and-leave-’em type, telling a woman, “Saying I’m bad for you, that’s fine / Sometimes bad is a good time.” And he invites Justin Bieber to join him for a remix of “Foreign,” which in a surely intended consequence makes Songz sound like the picture of cosmopolitan suavity.
“Just got back from Africa, I swear I saw ’bout 50,000 queens,” he sings, before recounting a trip to Paris with a few lines of French. And Bieber? “Shout out Miami,” offers the teen-pop star, “for having so many foreign babes.”
“Trigga” matches Songz’s sense of sophistication with immersive production, as in “Dead Wrong,” which features the bleary vocals of L.A.’s Ty Dolla Sign, and “Na Na,” where DJ Mustard uses the same hypnotic vocal lick the Fugees used in their 1996 hit “Fu-Gee-La.” The lush “SmartPhones,” in which he accidentally reveals his infidelity after pocket-dialing his girlfriend, is the album’s textural centerpiece, a shimmering electro-soul track overlaid with gorgeous multi-tracked harmonies.
Like all of "Trigga," it's recommended to R&B fans skeeved out by “Paula” – including (perhaps in particular) Patton herself.
3 stars out of 4