In 1966, the Beatles released “Revolver,” an album that was groundbreaking in its use of studio effects. Forty years later, circa 2006, studio experimentation reached its inevitable tipping point as the use of pitch-correction software to remove all traces of humanity from singers’ voices became popular, in large part due to the efforts of Florida vocalist T-Pain. His style of robo-songs was all the rage for about five minutes, and then the inevitable backlash — much of it focused on Pain himself — set in. After 2008’s “Thr33 Ringz,” he slowly faded from the spotlight.
Now, T-Pain is back with “rEVOLVEr.” One would think that, after dealing with so much anti-Auto-Tune sentiment, from everyone from Wyclef to Jay-Z, “rEVOLVEr” (emphasis on “EVOLVE”) would be some sort of return to simple, no-frills R&B music. Yeah, not exactly.
Pain is still singing in a manipulated voice that only a fembot could love. As always, his heavily modulated sound is most compelling as an accent, so it makes sense that the big singles from the album thus far have been collaborations. “5 O’Clock,” with Lily Allen and Wiz Khalifa, succeeds in large part because Allen’s sweet vocals pair well with Pain’s computer-chip caterwaul. “Best Love Song” may not totally live up to its title, but Chris Brown and Pain still make a good team, recapturing some of the magic of their 2007 hit “Kiss Kiss.”
T-Pain hits something of a solo stride toward the end of the disc, when he ditches the talk of “drank” (“Bottlez”) and his preference in women (the painful “Mix’d Girl”) and tries out some straightforward ballads (“Drowning Again,” “When I Come Home”).
The best of them is “Default Picture, a “Computer Love 2012” of sorts, all about connecting over Twitter and falling for someone’s avatar. Yes, there’s a ton of cyberspeak, and the track will be way too high-tech for many, but it’s a compelling statement on how modern love, like modern R&B, inevitably involves a fair amount of technology, whether we like it or not.
“5 O’Clock,” “Best Love Song,” “Default Picture”