“I’m a savage, but I’m just trying some different shit lately,” he croons on “Picture Perfect.” It’s true: The 32-year-old R&Bone vet isn’t slinging his hypersexual shtick throughout. Yet while Trey shows vulnerability on his solid seventh studio album, Tremaine is far from a PG-13 affair.
Trey welcomes you into his world on the 15-track project. Ever wonder how it feels to be looked at like a piece of meat? The Virginia native paints a picture with a special sort of #firstworldproblems on the album’s opening lines: “I been stressed out / I ain’t feeling my best / All they want is my sex.” On the sensual “#1 Fan,” he fesses up to performance anxiety before bedding a dedicated follower, wondering, “Why am I so nervous?” He wants to settle down and give Mama Trey a grandkid on the conflicted “Playboy” — with its ’90s slow jam vibes and exquisite falsetto — if only he could bring himself to stop having sex with random women and lying to his girl. Didn’t Trey tell you that he was a savage? Yes, he did, but on Tremaine, he also tells you how he feels about it — whether remorseful, afraid, or insecure.
The emo approach is a welcome departure from tracks like Trigga’s fly-out anthem “Foreign,” or the double-crossing “Disrespectful,” the types of licentious records upon which Trey has built his celebrity. Here, even when Trey is raunchy, he’s careful to distinguish between real romance and meaningless nookie. Over the gentle keys of the babymaker “The Sheets…Still,” he sings, “This ain’t no threesome-baby-you-can-get-your-girl f**k song, oh no / Girl, this that yeah-you-know-you’re-mine-all-the-time-making-love song.”
When things are on the rocks, Trey isn’t above serenading his way back into his lady’s life. He fights to keep a relationship intact on the closing ballad “Break From Love,” while the aforementioned “Picture Perfect” finds Mr. Steal Your Girl in an unexpected position — Instagram stalking his ex. “Goddamn, I gotta see your ass online / Girl, again and again / With that other guy, goddamn,” he sings.
Old habits die hard though, and the Trigga of days past pops up on Tremaine. The acoustic guitar-powered “She Lovin It” is a bit blunt, if not pushy (and problematic): “She said that she don’t wanna be f**ked / I said, ‘Why the hell are you sleeping naked?’” Meanwhile, “Animal” is a thematic derivative of R. Kelly’s already-ridiculous 2007 track “The Zoo”; Trey actually sings these lyrics: I go ape up on the donkey / I be throwin’ this banana all around / Put my face up in the monkey / No umbrella but the rain is pourin’ down.” Later, on “Games We Play,” Trey is back to using his smartphone not so smartly, stuck in a sorry cycle of breakups to make ups. He redeems himself with “Nobody Else But You,” staring in the mirror wondering why he takes his relationship for granted.
Musically, Tremaine finds a consistent mid-tempo groove. Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” gets revived once again as “1×1,” a vibe that’s disrupted by the bouncy 808s on “Priceless,” which is otherwise crippled by cliché lyrics about Trey trading his luxurious lifestyle for a special woman.
Unlike T.I. vs. T.I.P. or Steve Urkel vs. Stefan Urquelle, Trigga and Tremaine probably won’t go down as one of pop culture’s great dualities. But the two sides of Trey Songz become distinct on his new project, as the singer takes off his cool for just long enough to add some depth to his persona without going full prude. Simply put: Tremaine is a name you can trust — for better or worse.