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Album review: Trey Songz, 'Chapter V'

*** (out of 4)

You go to Trey Songz when you need an R&B hook for your rap song, which makes him the target for those complaints about the music on the radio being too commercial. At a time when R. Kelly shores up his fan base with throwback albums, Usher takes his musical cues from Ibiza and Chris Brown persists in being an irreconcilable d-bag, Trey Songz represents modern R&B's de facto leading man.

He’s generic, but in a reassuring way.

What gets lost in the whirling vortex of R&B discussion that surrounds Mr. Songz while rarely including him is that generic Trey Songz music is often exciting, and “Chapter V,” his appropriately titled fifth album, is no exception. The brand of moody atmospherics currently being celebrated in certain musical circles falls right within Trey Songz' wheelhouse, and the second half of the album shines by wholeheartedly devoting itself to this aesthetic, particularly on the regret-tinged “Bad Decisions” and “Fumble.” It was no coincidence that Trey Songz' career, remember, really took off along with that of frequent collaborator and fellow mope Drake.

The regretful tenor hits its peak on lead single “Heart Attack,” a stark ballad with just enough forward-thinking touches of electronic music to make it one of the year's best songs. It's a welcome departure from the tepid club fare like “Say Aah” with which he, for better or for worse, is usually associated. Attempts to repeat that formula are mostly fun and certainly preferable to the more blatant misfires (was there really ever any need for a song called “Panty Wetter?”), but Trey Songz is at his best when he sticks to his more insular tendencies, subtly reshaping and building upon the reassuring conventions of the genre.

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