Review Summary: Drown in it, "like a male mermaid."
The standard edition of Chris Brown's sixth studio LP, X
swells at 17 tracks, despite the notable exclusion of "Fine China." That song, which showcased CB at his best (i.e., meticulously-executed MJ worship), was supposed to be the album's lead single (once upon a time, back when the album had been slated for a July 2013 release). "Fine China" isn't even the only casualty of the record's numerous delays: the comparatively inferior (but still notable due to its feature) "Don't Think They Know," as well as "Love More," are also absent (although all three songs are available as bonus tracks on the deluxe edition).
Now, if you're wondering why I am even discussing this, or lamenting tracks that are not
actually on the album, my point here is simple: this was not supposed to be good. Brown, riding a perceptible artistic crash-and-burn before bottoming out with 2012's Fortune
, had to push the album back so many times that by the time it came out, it didn't even fit within his purported (idiotic) numerological reason for naming his sixth album X
("It's the Roman numeral for 10. 5/5/89 is my birthday: 5 plus 5 is 10, and this is my tenth year since I got into music. "X" is the 24th letter in the alphabet, and I will turn 24 when this album comes out."
). This was the longest stretch in between records for Brown.
On top of all that, Brown is still kind of a… a dick? Even keeping this conversation within the bounds of the music, "Loyal," the record’s most successful single, is a lyrical portrait of everything reviled about Chris Brown's public persona. I'll assume you know what I’m talking about (due to the track's ubiquity) and that you'll understand when I say it's almost laughable (fwiw: I say "almost" because this has not been something that he has shied away from in the years since becoming R&B's biggest villain).
Well, despite all that, and despite all of the reasons you may have to root against Chris Brown (and here I’ll put forth the obligatory reviewers’ disclaimer that those reasons are yours to curate and nobody really can blame you for doing so), this is a pretty strong output, at least taking the sum of its parts. If you were so inclined, you could cherry-pick a fantastic ten-track album out of X
, and to me that’s a win.
The title track opens the album, and purports to set the tone both lyrically and musically: "If you're only as good as the company you keep/Then I'm-a blame you for what they say about me"
, Brown declares before Diplo, frenzied and furious, makes himself known. Not that there is anything remotely interesting about someone like Diplo's presence here, or the electropop sensibilities that powder the album overall-- it's not unwelcome, but it's certainly not adventurous, either.
Probably the funniest song on the album, lyrically at least, is "Add Me In," which is full of lazily conceived middle school math joke come-ons. It's corny but light, catchy as hell, and a definite contrast to “Loyal,” which immediately follows it. Not that "Loyal" is bad-- despite what I wrote above, the song is a fucking banger-- it's just that there's a palpable snap-back to the more stern themes Brown had laid out in the introductory track.
What the remainder of X
offers is largely derived from Brown's collaborators, and perhaps the delayed release contribute to the album's diversity. Strong guest spots from Brandy, Usher, and Kendrick Lamar complement Brown well. In a nice little calculation, Brown and Trey Songz collaborate on "Songs on 12 Play" right before R. Kelly joins Brown on "Drown in It." The former, a broader homage to R. Kelly's earlier work, gives context to the latter, which feels either bizarre or perfectly appropriate, if you have kept up with R. Kelly's career.
Whether you look at X
as a 17 (or 21) song double album hit factory, or as a flailing grasp at frustrated artistry, it is underwhelming in both respects. It is simply a good collection of good songs, put together by talented folks to showcase their obvious talents.