America has the attention span of a 5-year-old boy with who hadn’t taken his Riddlin in months …and just ate an entire tub of ice cream, so it should come as no surprise that we’ve already moved on from the Chris Brown controversy that completely engulfed the music and pop culture world way back in 2008. Make no mistake, Brown wasn’t involved in some mere “scandal” – he did brutally and criminally assault Rihanna – but in the time since his last album, Graffiti, dropped there’s been enough Lady Gaga and Charlie Sheen and 50 Cent moments to force Breezy’s crimes into the recesses of the popular consciousness. So while some will undoubtedly refuse to ever re-embrace the one-time Prince of Pop, for the most part his new album F.A.M.E. arrives with a clean slate for Mr. Brown. Well, perhaps the slate isn’t completely clean, but it’s not completely dirtied either.
As R. Kelly has proven over and over and over again, a lot can be forgiven, and forgotten, with a catchy hook. Enter Deuces, a single that crosses off every box in the hit song checklist. The beat’s minimalist, the melody’s in-your-head-stickable and there’s even an attached catch phrase – in other words it’s exactly the kind of song radio will play 197 times a day. (Once they gave Tyga and Kevin McCall the boot, but that’s a story for another time.) More than simply providing a platform his CB’s “comeback,” Deuces also signaled his move further into the hip-hop. While there have always been hip-hop elements in his work, F.A.M.E. marks a deeper commitment to rap than we’ve ever heard from him, starting with Look At Me Now. On Look At Me Chris’ lyricism makes Waka sounds like Nas, but his flow isn’t as bad as I had feared and while I don’t know a single serious rap fan who doesn’t just start the track with Busta’s vintage verse, the point’s already been made – Breezy’s now rhyming on records with heavyweights. From there the rap continent makes sporadic appearances on F.A.M.E., with Wiz contributing a verse to the aggravatingly auto-tuned Bomb, Game jumping in on the dance-floor ready Love The Girls and Ludacris throwing in an offering on the unfortunately titled Wet The Bed. Hip-hop has always been more willing to forgive transgressions – hell, we could have a rapper only prison at this point – so it’s no wonder that Brown found a way back into the game via hip-hop.
As much as us hip-hop heads may want to believe the world begins and ends with a mic, true stardom, the kind Brown once enjoyed and Rihanna still commands, means winning over the world of pop, and on that front he’s still got a ways to go. Of course grabbing the immaculate Justin Bieber for Next 2 You should help things, and while I personally won’t be listening to this song again, I’m not exactly in the 13-year-old demographic the song’s aimed at. Next 2 You and the retro She Ain’t You aside, the rest of the album follows the prevailing trend and pushes pop into the clubs on records like Rock, Paper, Scissors, which has a nice beat but contains one of the worse hook’s of all-time (“You paper, scissor rock my world baby”) and the purely Euro-house Beautiful People – they’re going to love this one in the clubs in Amsterdam. It’s an easily enjoyable formula he repeats again on Oh My Love and others, but there’s nothing that truly stands out, and as hard as he may try, particularly on the sugary Should’ve Kissed You, F.A.M.E. simply doesn’t contain a mainstream hit on the order of (office wedding song) or (other hit), and if Breezy truly wants to get back on top, he needs another (song).
All this means that F.A.M.E. feels a little schizophrenic, one minute Brown is f**king big booty b**tches with Game and the next he’s singing sweet nothings alongside the Biebs, but this album isn’t about a unified artistic vision. This album is about keeping Brown relevant and making the musical man child marketable again, and on that level it’s a moderate success. He’s still got a long way to go before he regains his previous stature, and for the time being Trey Songz has buried him as the young future of R&B, but right now Brown just needs us to remember who he is. Fame is a hell of a drug, and without it, Brown’s just another junkie looking for a fix.