The Florida rapper’s having a blast on album four, regardless of who’s partying with him.
Mike Diver 2011
Stubbornly refusing to acknowledge Jay-Z’s imploring of rappers to quit with all the awful vocal effects, 2009’s Death of Auto-Tune, T-Pain has pressed ahead with this fourth LP, the follow-up to 2008’s Billboard Chart hit Thr33 Ringz. Blinkers up, he’s delivered another set that dizzies with its disregard for a pure and simple vocal. By the end of these 17 tracks the head is heavy with images of the Smash robots battle-rapping against a crew from whatever planet The Clangers call home.
Auto-Tune well and truly jumped the shark with the late-2011 release of the video game Saints Row: The Third, in which a pimp character called Zimos speaks through a perma-Auto-Tuned voicebox having had a tracheotomy. Played for (big) laughs, the presence of such a figure should, surely, be the final nail in the coffin of this rightly maligned approach to production. Which makes rEVOLVEr something of a relic before it’s completed its initial spin.
The typical array of guest vocalists are spared too much of a post-production savaging: Lil Wayne spills forth his standard torrent of stoned non sequiturs; Chris Brown notches his 157th and 158th ‘featuring’ credits of 2011 (there or thereabouts) with Best Love Song and Look at Her Go (brilliantly, he manages to slip in a "cowabunga"); and Lily Allen is perfectly sultry on 5 O’Clock, which samples her song Who’d Have Known. But T-Pain himself knows no other way to present his vocals, and the end product can become excruciating in its one-dimensionality.
The influence of Eurodance is clear on the Ne-Yo-starring Turn All the Lights On – substitute T-Pain’s computer-twisted barking for the smoother female vocals of a Kelly Rowland figure and you’d be hearing a likely hit – and the superbly cheesy It’s Not You (It’s Me), which bubbles like the cheapest of fizzy pop. Slower numbers Rock Bottom, Regular Girl and the social-media-stalker effort Default Picture offer respite from the relentless pace elsewhere; but those Auto-Tune vocals rise to the forefront of the mixes, obscuring any discernable emotion.
T-Pain’s single-minded approach to music-making is admirable in some respects: he’s clearly unconcerned with pop trends, and hasn’t sold out his (once) original vision. Back in 2007 he was outperforming Rihanna in first-week sales; today, he’s some distance off the mainstream radar, but seems content to be there. And as the high-profile nature of collaborators here illustrates, he can still call in a favour or two. He’s on the down-slope then, but T-Pain’s still having a blast regardless of who’s partying with him.