Review Summary: ... also titled Chris Brown & 13 More Ways To Get In Your Pants. Awkward!
Chris Brown might
have had a rough year.
On the February night before the 2009 Grammy Awards, the then-19 year old may have gotten in a physical altercation with fellow young R&B superstar Rihanna, and forced to have every media outlet endlessly scrutinize him as the public example against domestic violence. He may have pled guilty to a felony and taken a deal involving community labor and five years’ probation. He may have poked his head out of the shadows every so often to relentlessly apologize for his actions against Rihanna on Larry King Live, ABC, MTV, and most important, YouTube. He may still be the hopeless victim of cruel jokes and verbal abuse from fans, celebrities, and tweeters everywhere, and people still may shy away from any affrimative mention of the triple-platinum star.
This all might have happened- but you don’t hear any of that in the furiously rebellious “I Can Transform Ya”. It’s a robotic jungle full of thunderous cranking, whirring, whistling, and smashing where Brown and allies Swizz Beatz and Lil’ Wayne aggressively promise to “change you up.” It’s monstrous and well done as the lead into his third and post-apocalyptic album Graffiti
, but turns a blind eye to the hell that Chris Brown has persevered in the past year.
The controversy over Graffiti
isn’t whether or not Brown has effectively assembled 13 great tracks or 13 terrible ones. The controversy, and unfortunately the album itself, rests on whether or not he can properly hang his head to the world and atone for his sins in stereo. And on that level, the album is an all-out fail: while ex-girlfriend Rihanna’s Rated R
reeks of desperate dark emotion, Chris Brown… well, ladies, Chris Brown’s got 13 more ways to get in your pants.
And there will be legions of critics and fans who slam the record simply because of the fact that it’s just not sorry enough. Sure, there’s slower times where you can tell he’s alluding to his pain- “Crawl” is a vocally strong power ballad where Brown pleads to pick up the pieces, “So Cold” is bravely apologetic (“She was the only one / And I know I was dead wrong”), and on the less successful “Lucky Me”, he commits to smiling through the sadness. But on the large majority on the album, Brown focuses on the upbeat music he’s known for, and most succeed: he plays sweet on the mid-tempo “Sing Like Me”, slows it down on the sexy drum-thump of “Take My Time”, and gets electro-happy sampling Eric Prydz’s “Call On Me” on “Pass Out”. There’s even a pair of fun trunk-rattlers: “What I Do” is a hood-happy bass heavy thumper, and “Wait” is a chance for Brown to flaunt his sexual prowess. Bold move.
Not every track works (pass on the 80s synth of “I.Y.A.”), but if nothing else, Graffiti does create two interesting moments: “Fallin’ Down” may be his most honest song yet: it’s a churning frustrated explanation of Brown’s state of current existence. “Why is it so easy for you to blame?” he begs, later wailing “It’s getting heavy, I’m getting ready to break down.” Then there’s the bouncy but cryptic “Famous Girl”, where Brown makes alluding statements to a famous lost love: “I might have cheated in the beginning / I was wrong for writing ‘Disturbia’ / But I meant it in ‘Forever’ / We were supposed to be together.” But like the rest of the album, a potentially meaningful message is subdued under a snappy production. Those looking for Brown to show his soul won’t see it on Graffiti
, and for better or worse, that makes it more enjoyable.