Post Aqua Teen Hunger Force, post Taylor Swift duet, post "I Am T-Pain" toy microphone, it's hard to expect much from T-Pain, who's increasingly proven more interested in selling himself as a kind of free-floating weirdo brand name than making actual music. Yet half a decade after carving out a new niche for himself, the robotically voiced crooner with a gift for popping out snappy, semi-novelty-style hits seems wise for attempting to diversify. The popularity of Auto-Tune, at least as a vehicle for carrying entire songs, has thankfully decayed, and, as proven by the stilted, moldy sound of rEVOLVEr, there aren't many other tricks up T-Pain's sleeve.
The album's press release cites recent appearances in Bud Light and Toshiba ads as evidence of T-Pain's growing appeal, with further nods to his status as "the king of ringtone sales," but these bottom-line, business-minded talking points feel like desperate attempts to shore up his rapidly fading musical currency. rEVOLVEr finds him at an important crossroads: He can still pull in big names, like Lil Wayne on opener "Bang Bang Pow Pow" and Chris Brown on "Look at Her Go," but he can't provide interesting atmospheres for them to work in. Preceded by four singles that had to be jettisoned due to lack of interest, the album finds him in danger of becoming something between a sad jester and an outright joke.
It's for these reasons that the complete absence of evolution on rEVOLVEr, despite being promised right there in the embarrassingly styled title, feels so disappointing. T-Pain has sworn in the past that he was done with Auto-Tune, but the fact that it's all over this album hardly matters. Whether or not he can or can't sing, or whatever technology he uses to avoid or augment that fact, his voice will always be secondary to the quality of the songs. In this sense, the songs here stink entirely on their own merits, not because of any external factors. Basically, there's no spark, life, or individual charm to elevate any of the material above the thin gruel of syrupy production, automated singing, and trend-chasing. Where T-Pain's previous hits were filed with a dumb, infectious kind of charm, tracks like "Default Picture," a love song about Facebook that's far too specific to make any real sense, just sound sad.
Throughout rEVOLVEr, T-Pain struggles to sound up to date, but the only way he achieves this is through a depressing obsession with brand consciousness. The album is full of references to Nuvo, with specific, repeated mentions to both yellow and pink varieties. Does T-Pain have this stuff on the brain, or is this just overt product placement for a drink he's shilled for in the past? This might be worth looking into were rEVOLVEr not already a 60-minute commercial itself, advertising a singer whose lack of focus has turned his music into a sideline for an increasingly cartoonish persona.