Likes: Add Me In, Autumn Leaves, Drunk Texting, Fine China
Dislikes: Loyal, Came to Do, Drown In it, Love More, Body Shots
Overall: Musically strong, but his intent to be throwback is stifled by terrible, new school lyrics
After multiple delays, business conflicts and personal legal obstructions, Chris Brown’s X has arrived. It’s definitely 1 of those albums where you ask yourself if you should more heavily praise the artist for their attempt or criticize them for their failure to fully and properly execute their intended objective. With homage to and features from R&B’s last great era and spot on, thirst-quenching incarnations of Michael Jackson, it’s apparent that Brown desired to go *Christina Aguilera voice* back to basics, but it’s like he couldn’t help but smell of the death that is current R&B. Rebounding from the superficially trendy musical production of the previous Fortune album, X’s techno, R&B and southern hip-hop fusions have more integrity, especially with the reduced prominence of traditional euro-pop patterns and use of auto-tune. Although his boyish tone still dominates, Brown shows there might be 1 or 2 more colors to his voice. On “Don’t Be Gone Too Long” with Ariana Grande, for example, he almost sounds like a different person (Grande is also unrecognizable). Some of the album’s finer moments are the Jackson-typed “Add Me In” and “Fine China.” Many modern artists claim to have been influenced by the King of Pop, but few actually incorporate the inspiration into their music. I appreciate Brown’s audacity to go there and his ability to nail the Jackson magnetism, charisma and technique that’s so needed in today’s popular music.
Where Brown misses his “go in the R&B vault” target is in the lyrics. As a result of hip-hop’s influence on contemporary R&B, seduction is a lost art. The love songs, which are already without ardor, are juxtaposed with degradation and disrespect (ex. “These hoes ain’t loyal”). “Came to Do” has lines about getting a woman under the influence so she’ll be more susceptible to accepting the dick he’s offering, but Brown declares it’s “for all the ladies.” I didn’t hear anything for me in that song. If life was a Broadway play, “Came to Do” would be the song performed when that annoying drunk guy slides up to you at the bar and calls himself spitting game, saying very inappropriate things while grabbing his penis and bragging about its girth. It made me think of the “Whispering Playa” interlude on TLC’s Fanmail album. Even “Add” has a tacky twist, speaking of hooking up in the back of the club. Tracks like “Loyal” and “Came to Do” set the tone for the sexual songs, which have no craft, thought or charm with ridiculously literal descriptions, pumped with arrogant testosterone. As for the throwbackN’B features, following the lyrical tribute to R.Kelly’s debut Songs on 12 Play (a duet with Brown contemporary Trey Songz), is an appearance from Kelly on “Drown in It,” which implements the most exhausted sexual analogy in music. If I hear another song comparing my vagina to a body of water, I’m going to lose it. The amount of Kelly in the air (including that Songz claims him as an influence) begs the question if hip-hop was the only suspect in the murder of R&B. Most would more closely tie Brown’s musical lineage to Usher (also a student of MJ), but his bid on “New Flame” does nothing to keep the track from being a dud. “Do Better” with Brandy did better at catching my attention, but hearing the trailblazer (I hate when people ignore or downplay her achievements) use the N-word and swear is more new school than I’d prefer.
So, again, I wondered if I should give Chris Brown an “E” for effort or a letter grade actually used in American education. Having enough cognizance to A) realize we need to go back to basics, B) channel Michael Jackson and C) put Usher and Brandy on same album are all good things; lots of points for that. However, those points can be deducted if you don’t quite go back to basics. Lyrics that are prosaic, sexually cheap, require a parental advisory label and are *Dr. Phil voice* offensive to my sensibilities as a woman negated any nod to the past he made. In the words of Brandy, “Almost Doesn’t Count.”