When you lose a strong love, the worst parts of the breakup are the dreams. Those millions of dissections of the relationship’s carcass operating behind the smiles and well wishes you employ to placate your anger. But, in your subconscious the neurosis of love is not only center stage, it’s the only movie playing. The-Dream has always sung about love. Now he’s dreaming his way through it.
On Genesis, The-Dream’s first visual album, which featured both an accompanying film and ten brand-new tracks exclusively for Tidal, he attempts to guide us through this haze, no matter how much he loses grip with the listener.
Love is a barren wasteland and The-Dream is trying to make sense of the dystopia. These mostly come by way of religious parables that, for the most part, are some of the most profound lyrics he has ever committed to record. The first song, “Omni of Genesis Overture,” is a smattering of orchestral chanting and grandiose string progressions fit for the intro of a resurrection. The first words you hear on the album are a distorted “goodbye” on the second track “Heir Jordan”. The middle of the album even features a vocoder-sounding Dream announcing, “We have gathered here to today to witness the wild become the ways of the man” on the song “Level.” At its best, Genesis features Terius Nash crafting an engrossing love story. At its worst, it’s a convoluted affair full of meandering half-thoughts.
Every song has accompanying visuals, and they are all stunning and if your Internet connection is about that 1080p life, the shimmering silk sheets pop, the cathedral ruins feel claustrophobic, and the faint shine in the eyes of his dead lover shimmer brightly. They are eye candy; sweet but make no sense in the context of the main course, the album. While seeing a gorgeous woman seemingly unconscious in a car while Dream morosely croons “getting my story together, so I can tell it to whoever needs to know” on “Bury” is visceral. But, even Dream’s own preemptive disclaimer describes these visuals as “some variations of my random dreams,” which sound as annoyingly ambiguous as most of the visuals paired with the songs.
The weird thing about Genesis is the story conveyed in the songs is good, but a cop out after a few songs. By itself, “Bury” is an instant standout track with Dream marrying The-Dream we are used to (sultry production with seductive singing) with the new Dream emerging from the ashes of the lost love (astutely sardonic). But, when you remember the preceding song, “Walls”, repeated: “I wish I could die away,” “may as well die away,” and “let me die away” as the song faded into “Bury,” that is when the songs begin to congeal together like splices of film scenes. Add in the ominously bare album closer “No Pacts” with Dream singing about the flaws of indulgence and you have a four-song set as immersive as anything Dream has done.
If only he actually kept a consistent storyline. After “Bury,” the religious overtones are reduced to novelties, only reappearing as clever lyrics. While I appreciate Wiz Khalifa being “so high only God can judge me” on “Virtuous,” repeating that one phrase along with “we are who we are” over pounding drums feels like a reach for a song that boils down to one question: “What you want to be? A hoe, wife, or a girlfriend?” The-Dream has made a career of these polarizing juxtapositions between classical and rachet, but “good girl dancing like strippers” and “cool girls getting ratchet” sound like The-Dream suffering from a false dichotomy he himself has created.
The production acts as a score, often meant to exacerbate the nightmarishly apocalyptic world The-Dream has meticulously constructed. Stuttering hi-hats scratching against bassy drums with radio signal beeps permeating throughout on a song such as “Spectre” makes the desperation of lyrics like, “It’s hard to climb in this climate” feel more corporeal. The-Dream languidly spills his heart about a dying love on “Bury” over a bass line as muddied as those sordid affairs.
Genesis is a visual album to a fault. A grand story convoluted by its own ambition, too tightly woven together to have either one stand on its own.