R&B singer and producer T-Pain will go down in infamy as the clown prince of Auto-Tune, the voice processor that makes everyone who uses it sound like a squirrel, or Cher. T-Pain has used Auto-Tune on almost every hit he's ever had, or made, which poses something of a problem for him on his latest disc, "Thr33 Ringz": What do you do when you've based your career on a novelty that's no longer a novelty?
If you're T-Pain, you surround yourself with guest stars (Chris Brown, Ciara, Lil Wayne, Kanye West), turn up the Auto-Tune and hope no one notices the essential slightness of the enterprise. "Thr33 Ringz" is largely free of the charm and devastating hooks T-Pain has consistently delivered as both an artist and a producer -- it's as if, having given away his best tricks, he no longer has anything left for himself.
With 21 songs on the deluxe edition, and that's not counting all the skits and interludes, "Thr33 Ringz" feels overstuffed and endless. There are the usual tracks about throwing money around the club, about T-Pain's freaky lady (described in such explicit detail, you'll begin to feel like her gynecologist), and even a sweet, effects-free ballad about his kids ("Keep Going").
But T-Pain seems only partly engaged throughout. Here's how bad things get: He can't even summon up enthusiasm for the stripper ode "Long Lap Dance," which is like Lee Greenwood not getting excited by "God Bless the U.S.A." He perks up only on "Karaoke," a catalogue of complaints about all the other artists using Auto-Tune ("Y'all was in the game way before me/So why you wanna do some [stuff] I did in '03?"). These days, apparently, sounding like a karaoke version of T-Pain is something only T-Pain should do.
-- Allison Stewart
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