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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

THR33 RINGZ

T-Pain

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

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Superstar Lady," "Change," "Freeze"

THE DEATH OF ADAM

88-Keys

Kanye West rapping about erectile dysfunction? Thanks to producer-rapper 88-Keys, that dream is now a reality. "Please keep it discreet," Kanye pleads on "Stay Up! (Viagra)," the standout cut from "The Death of Adam," a quirky concept album about the sexual misadventures of a young man named after the biblical ur-bro.

It's a clever idea for a song, not to mention a bold move for 88-Keys's debut album, but the story line thins quickly over the course of 14 tracks. Here's the CliffsNotes version, in the parlance of a family newspaper: Adam's curiosity about the opposite sex is vigorous. Adam aims to impress a young lady with dinner at Mr. Chow's. Adam's courtship is . . . successful. Adam learns that he has contracted a sexually transmitted disease (it's treatable -- therefore, by 88-Keys's logic, it's funny). Adam's partner later becomes pregnant. And to quote the album's narrator: "Adam's life is over."

Cynical? Quite. So for levity, 88-Keys peppers the album with penis jokes. It's a shame to see his creativity taking a back seat to punch lines that would have slayed at summer camp. He's also quick to retreat into the producer role, ceding the spotlight to guest performers Redman, Kid Cudi and others. Unsurprisingly, Kanye delivers the album's most memorable rhymes -- brash, goofy and a thousand times less annoying than those "Viva Viagra" television commercials.

-- Chris Richards

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Stand Up (Viagra)"

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