There is something unusually Broadway about the 25-year-old Virginia-bred singer Trey Songz. The mode he works in – sex-obsessed, hi-tempo R&B – is utterly masculine, but his voice has a bright, quavering quality that recalls sturdy female performers like Judy Garland and Bernadette Peters. He sings, and often raps, quickly and with deep melodic gifts. This is no slight – being the most theatrical of all modern R&B singers has served him well. His fourth album – with the Sondheimian title “Passion, Pain & Pleasure” – doesn’t have the unbridled mania of last year’s breakthrough, “Ready,” which found Trey alerting neighbors to his bedroom exploits and inspiring lovers to consider the notion that he had, in fact, “invented sex.”
But “Passion” is softer and subtler than “Ready.” There are more ballads here – and fewer “panty-droppers” and “baby-makers.” Instead, Trey is making “Love Faces” at his girl, or growing reflective, and occasionally maudlin, as on “Can’t Be Friends.” Though his near-yodel has slowed, it has hardly disappeared. “Pain (Interlude)” is practically a paean to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – this is highly unlikely loverman music. But when Trey does indulge his libertine desires and penchant for puttin’ on a show, as on the gleeful, kinetic “Bottoms Up,” he is trumped by an even more eccentric performer.
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