Last week, a small group of media and radio contest winners were invited to San Francisco's Studio Trilogy, where such diverse musicians as Kronos Quartet and Lady Gaga have recorded, for an exclusive listening party to hear Chapter Five, the forthcoming album from R&B star Trey Songz.
Besides letting us hear the new tunes, the evening was meant as an introduction into what was called "the frenzy of Trey Songz," who has completed six tours in the past three years. A short video showing hordes of screaming, tearful fans of all ages and persuasions was screened; one girl thrust a sign that said, "This lesbian loves you!"
We were already quite familiar with the fever for the flavor of this man, especially locally. After having a quickie with him a couple years ago, we last encountered Songz onstage at the 2011 KMEL Summer Jam at Oakland's Oracle Arena. Panties were flying at him from all directions; one girl was kind enough to later tweet an apology for hitting him in the face with hers.
Songz then came into the studio and pulled up the tracks on his iPod, explaining that Chapter Five contains all the best bits of his past work, all the hookiest hooks and most memorable concepts, but this is "a version that's further evolved."
"I get really excited every time I play this," he said, and the way he danced to and really just inhabited his music for the next hour proved that statement true. At times he'd swing his arms like a classical conductor, play fierce air guitar riffs, or punch out staccato drum patterns with his hands. It was fascinating to watch as the bass and melodic elements pulsed through his body.
He spent most of the time facing the contest winners who were watching through a window in the next room, giving them a memorably intimate performance. He warned that he'd be ripping his shirt off right at the first note of the album, but he sadly didn't keep that promise.
Songz often cites Marvin Gaye and R. Kelly as being two of his most prominent musical influences, and his best music can feel like a sharp fusion of the soulfulness of the former and the over-the-top cheekiness of the latter. Tall and chiseled with smoldering almond eyes, he's also grown into a much more potent sex symbol than his predecessors could manage, which often allows him to get away with some pretty outrageous lyrics.
This bears out pretty quickly on Chapter Five, where the aquatic double entendres of "Dive In" flow right into a song called "Panty Wetter," wherein he croons, "Wetter than a fountain, a waterfall off a mountain." Call it the R. Kelly school of subtlety, but it still works.
Before he played the single "2 Reasons," he explained that he'd gotten flack for talking about "bitches and drinks" in the song and had recorded a tamer "ladies and drinks" version. "Everyone says it, but I get in trouble," he mock lamented. "What can you do?"