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Album review: Chris Brown's 'F.A.M.E.'

Chrisbrown When Chris Brown opens his new album with “Deuces,” a sleek kiss-off that sweeps aside an ex as “nothing but a vulture,” he’s not hiding any bitterness. A few minutes deep into the track with Tyga and Kevin McCall, the most troublesome line of the album unfurls: “Like Tina did Ike in the limo, it finally hit me. I got a new chick and it ain’t you.” The poison dart isn’t delivered by Brown but the underlying message is clear and it’s one that’s been long-trotted out by Breezy’s defenders: Rihanna brought it on herself.

Before the domestic abuse incident in February 2009, Brown was a promising pop star prepped to inherit some of Michael Jackson’s early solo-career shine but with a modern, sexy edge like Ne-Yo. After the highly publicized pictures of Rihanna’s bruised face, Brown became, to many more people, that violent pop star who beat up his girlfriend. Brown attempted a few apologies, awkwardly appearing on “Larry King Live” and claiming to not remember the fight. Meanwhile, his career was presumed dead by many in the industry.

But on the release date of his fourth album, “F.A.M.E.,” Brown is enjoying a slew of hit radio singles. How did he do it? By nearly abandoning Jackson circa “Off the Wall” and instead attempting the outré unapologetic genius of R. Kelly. “F.A.M.E.,” an acronym, rather astoundingly standing for “Forgiving All My Enemies,” isn’t without a mild flick of contrition here and there, but for the most part, Brown is full-steam ahead as a Lothario whose appetites know no bounds.

As a lover and an artist, Brown will wear any mask to get what he wants — sex, street cred or radio redemption. As much as he cycles from a sexually confident tough guy on “Look at Me Now” to simpering romantic on “Should’ve Kissed You,” he also churns through several modes on “F.A.M.E.” Overall, the album leaves not an impression of one singular style but of the great effort required to mix and match so many times. “Beautiful People,” with its powdered-sugar synths and dance floor positivity, is almost a Kylie Minogue song. With a few shifts in production values, “All Back” could have easily found itself in the coffers of Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood.

All of it is done capably, even superbly in some cases, though “F.A.M.E.” also feels strained and sometimes downright desperate. That said, there’s no denying he pulls off some neat coups. “She Ain’t You” is carried aloft on a gussied up sample from Jackson’s “Human Nature” and the sentiment of the song is refreshingly complex. “Look at Me Now” is ubiquitous for a reason, built around a hypnotic toss between bass thumps, alien effects and rapid flow from Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne.

The truth is that Brown, like his ex-girlfriend Rihanna, who has used S&M and sexually violent imagery for her own visceral and at times confusing artistic expressions, is a provocateur. And as a provocateur who particularly likes playing with the masks of masculinity — from the angry to the apologetic to the always-conquering — he seems to be seeing his violent encounter with Rihanna as a kind of strange gift, something he’ll no doubt manipulate for years to come, even as the memories of Rihanna’s bruises fade.

—Margaret Wappler

Chris Brown
Two and a half stars

Comments () | Archives (34)

I thought this was one of the best reviews of Chris Brown's album I've seen this week. I am not saying this because it focused on the music nearly 100% (like Entertainment Weekly), nor because it mostly criticized him personally (like the Guardian in the UK). The writer gave a review on his album based on the way people are doing reviews of CB these days and, I must confess, it was very balanced. She used quotes from his album to make her points (what other review has anyone else seen where this was done?). And, while talking about normal subjects pertaining to CB, she also investigated the album. She spoke of the album covering different mindsets (CB as lover, CB as apologetic, etc) and even talked about some of his better material off of the album (even though I personally didn't like 'She aint you'). She closed saying that he basically took a hint from Rihanna with his use of sexual energy (and, IMO, did it better). To whomever wrote this review, it was wonderful. It had balance, it spoke of what was going on in Chris' career, but the review wasn't bogged down with what Chris did to Rihanna (in contrast, I've seen some reviews with 5 paragraphs and only 1 paragraph spoke of his music; this review is 6:1 but the other way) and it actually tells the reader about the album (which should be why they would be reading an ALBUM REVIEW in the first place). If I could rate this review I would give it a 10. From a Chris AND Rihanna fan.

Why can't you just write a music review?

he's a no-talent coward who beats up women...have you ever seen him in a fight with a man?...if he ever did time, he would be his cellmate's girlfriend...

Forget What EveryBody Say Chris Doingg His Thing Even With All The Obstacles That Keep Comingggg

you should be fired mate.

why do people abuse the word genius? mozart, einstien, tesla not brown

Congratulations Margaret Wappler.....You did what I thought could NOT be done!!! You one-upped August Brown. He misquoted the lyrics of "Deuces" and distorted the meaning of the song when he said K-Mac rapped "Like Ike did Tina in the limo, it finally hit me." But, you went one better, you totally changed the meaning of "Like Tina did Ike in the limo, it finally hit me." According to YOU, this line has an underlying meaning that Rihanna brought it all on herself. First of all, K-Mac wrote the song so there goes your Rihanna theory. This line references the movie "Whats love got to do with it." Remember the movie scene.....Tina had a LIGHTBULB MOMENT....a MOMENT OF REALIZATION...i.e. it finally HIT me!!!!! Somewhere your Journalism professors are shaking their collective heads because they are wondering how you strayed so far from the concept of MUSIC REVIEW. You really should submit your resume to TMZ because they are always on the lookout for writers who have no regard for the truth. If they gave a license for Journalism, yours would have to be revoked. How can you sleep after writing the last sentence of this hate rant? August Brown, I see you in a brand new light.

Haters of this review, listen up:
The job of a journalist is to inject relevancy into his or her work and provide context, not just to write a rote story. It's impossible to review this album without reference to Rihanna - it's the elephant in the room while you listen to songs like "Deuces" that refer harshly to an ex. The policy of "forgiving and forgetting" is noble and accurate, but to a point. All the reviewer is rightly calling attention to is how Brown is back on top as if nothing happened, with the lyrics and irreverence to match.

omg seriously u should be FIRED! chris has come a long way and its people like you that try to bring others down! MEDIA you need to stop bringing up old irrelevant events and understand that its a NEW YEAR a NEW DAY and ITS OVER!!! GOOD JOB CHRIS BREEZY I LOVE YOU!! THE ALBUM IS CRAZY HOT!!! I LISTEN TO IT EVERYDAY

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