Jason Derulo‘s 2014 smash “Talk Dirty” was more than a comeback hit for the pop veteran: It was a much-needed game-changer. After years of producing slick, inoffensive dance singles like “Whatcha Say” and “The Other Side,” he tossed out the brash pop-rap collab with 2 Chainz and took on an R-rated rhythmic guise — and it worked. Since then, Derulo, 25, has spun his new dimension into a hot streak, turning follow-ups “Marry Me,” “Wiggle” and “Trumpets” into top 40 hits.
Billboard Cover: Jason Derulo on Fitness Fanaticism, His Post-Jordin Sparks Love Life and All-Star-Filled New Album
Fittingly, his fourth album, Everything Is 4, arrives with more anticipation — and A-list guest stars — than before. A singles master admirably attempting to establish himself as an albums artist, Derulo does a little bit of everything on Everything, sometimes stretching himself too thin but finding a few more no-brainer pop hits along the way.
For much of the project, Derulo lets his newfound bad-boy side run free: He gets stoned on “Broke,” drops F-bombs on “Pull-Up” and stuffs “Love Me Down” with unsavory sex metaphors (“Girl, why you all alone?/Go and tell your kitty, give a dog a bone.”) Elsewhere, he clumsily revisits his “Talk Dirty” persona on “Get Ugly,” which spoils a spirited hook with lines like “Oh my God/This girl straight and this girl not.” But when he frames this mild debauchery within MJ-evoking electro arrangements and gigantic hooks, as he does on the silky “Cheyenne” and breakup jam “X2CU,” he excels as a newly dynamic pop specialist.
Hot 100 Chart Moves: Jason Derulo Jumps In With ‘Want to Want Me’
Too often, however, the album toys with new sounds that Derulo’s not equipped to handle, and the results are forced and directionless. An R&B ballad with K. Michelle is followed by a big band duet with Meghan Trainor, which precedes a country sing-along featuring Stevie Wonder and Keith Urban. That’s nearly a third of the album on which Derulo feels like a guest on someone else’s song.
In interviews, the singer has admitted he has struggled to overcome anonymity during his career; he has multiple radio hits but people still don’t know who he is. On Everything Is 4, some songs give him newfound definition, but then others distract from it. Derulo may have found the formula for creating singles, but if he wants to make album-length statements, he needs to narrow his focus.
This story originally appeared in the June 13 issue of Billboard.