Of all the young, photogenic teenybopper R&B singers to step in during the time when Chris Brown seemed to have permanently vacated his niche, Iyaz was by far and away the most talented. Granted, given that his competition was Trey Songz (“See? I’m the perfect replacement for Chris Brown! I TOO can sing songs about being a loathsome scumbag!”), Jason Derulo (“Proving people with no discernible talent can still have major careers since 2009!”), Jeremih (“Wait, you mean “Dick in a Box” was intended as a JOKE?!”), Taio Cruz (“It’s a flying pig, it’s a Purple People Eater…it’s CAPTAIN RIDICULOUS!”), and Jay Sean (“The humanoid incarnation of the law of diminishing returns…and proud of it, man!”), that may not seem like saying much. But even so, Iyaz was something truly special for the extremely dark period for mainstream R&B out of which he emerged. In addition to the above-mentioned artists, I’ve seen him compared to Sean Kingston (“To be honest, I have no idea how I got this job either…maybe one of the record executives felt sorry for me?”) and Akon (“Making REAL thinly-veiled rape anthems YEARS before the “Blurred Lines” controversy!”), but he is much more capable than the former and vastly more palatable than the latter.
This album’s good qualities may seem easy to take for granted today, but two things make this album very special compared to its peers at the time. The first is sheer melody. For those of you who have heard the album’s title track, the runaway hit song “Replay”, yes, just about the entire album sounds like that. These songs don’t just have catchy hooks surrounded by functional staccato noise…every note from the intro verses to the pre-choruses to the hooks themselves is good enough to carry a song on its own. Even now we only occasionally get mainstream R&B this melodious, and it was practically unheard of at the time.
The other thing that made this album stand out at the time of its release is its tone. Do you remember all the complaints about the not-very-convincing pose Shawn Mendes tried to strike on his second album Illuminate…that of the sweet, sincere hopeless romantic who only wants to make his girl happy? Well, six years earlier, Iyaz had captured that same persona so effortlessly and convincingly that it’s pretty hard to believe it was a pose at all. Remember, Iyaz came on the scene about a year before Bruno Mars showed up to put the romance back in R&B, so he was definitely an anomaly at the time. In a world where R&B had become overtly sexualized and very (for lack of a better word) thuggish, Iyaz was totally unashamed to write what were basically boy-band ballads, and he wrote them with a sincerity no boy-band ever approached. In that sense, you might call him the Buddy Holly of late-2000s R&B (don’t laugh—the comparison is more apt than you might think).
I will be the first to admit that this album is corny, dopey and sappy in the extreme…the tremulous love song “Heartbeat” even uses a refrain of “Rum-pa-pum-pum”. But that’s just part of its charm…like the early Owl City albums, you don’t have to be able to take it seriously to find its ingenuous innocence irresistible. The album isn’t perfect…there is one blatant false note, the murder ballad “Stacy”, which is severely out-of-place next to the rest of the album and isn’t a good fit for Iyaz’s style to begin with. But songs like “Solo”, “There You Are”, “Friend”, and “Goodbye” comprise some of the sweetest and most melodious R&B we had heard on a mainstream Pop album in years at that point, and as dated and cheesy as they sound compared to the sophisticated Retro-R&B and Indie R&B sounds heard on the radio today, they still are almost impossible not to like.