Trey Songz's latest is successful not because it takes a fresh approach or carries an important message, but rather because it so effortlessly epitomizes the modern R&B genre as it currently exists.
The modern era of R&B just keeps getting better. Future’s bold, operatic Honest has become the touchstone for the genre in 2014, but it’s only the latest in a series of inventive releases from the last few years kicked off by new voices like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean moving the conventional sound into a new direction. Trey Songz, having just released Trigga, his sixth LP, is decidedly not a new voice, and though he apparently has no interest in rattling the cage of classic R&B, he’s still capable of making a strong album. Trigga is successful not because it takes a fresh approach or carries an important message, but rather because it so effortlessly epitomizes the modern R&B genre as it currently exists, without any pretense or delusion of importance. It’s just a classically good album.
Trey may not be the most original voice in contemporary R&B, but he has undisputed talent. For Trigga, he takes from the two most emulated voices in contemporary R&B -- the lush arrangements central to the-Dream’s aesthetic and R. Kelly’s uniquely balanced blend of both trashy and charming sexual innuendo -- and combines them into a derivative, but no less satisfying sound. The album is not likely to impress or inspire a savvy listener who has been attuned to this style for years, but it is consistently good enough to regard it as one of the stand-out R&B albums this year and easily the greatest showcase of the artist’s talent to date.
Though he may be dedicated to convention, Trey Songz has a personal flourish on full display on Trigga that was previously less noticeable. The album explores all the familiar themes of sensuality and pleasure, but Trey does it with sly charisma, self-awareness and wit, starting with the amusing ode to oral sex that is “Cake” (“They say you can’t have cake and eat it too / But ain’t that what you’re supposed to do?”) and the Nicki Minaj featured “Touchin’, Lovin’” (“I’m touching you tonight / I’m loving you tonight / Wait, no, I’m fucking you tonight”) to the bracingly minimalist “All We Do” (“All we do is fuck, drink, and sleep”). The album takes some minor excursions into both more frivolous and more serious territory -- “Foreign” and “SmartPhones” respectively -- however, the through line is all about the erotic nature of success, luxury, and gratification, and at 57 minutes, Trigga touches on these ideas extensively.
It’s difficult to make music that’s both commercially and artistically valuable, but Trey Songz has finally compiled a set that seems to do just that. Trigga is flashy, hard, and groovy, but it’s also easy to listen to because, despite its length, it doesn't take itself seriously. The best R&B albums are as fun as they are sexy, and while Trey can’t quite imitate R. Kelly as closely as he might like, most of the songs on Trigga achieve a devious, subtle humor that any of the genre’s mainstays should be envious of. Along with the bright and clean production, replete with snapping snare drums, droning bass and floaty synth lines that don’t overwhelm the addictive hooks, Trigga becomes an endlessly accessible collection of bangers and ballads alike.