Chris Brown plays it safe for a change on new album, ‘Fortune’

July 2, 2012

There are a few moments on Chris Brown’s new album, “Fortune,” that the harshest critics of the 23-year-old singer might describe as unfortunate. On the pulsating dance monster “Bassline,” Brown’s innocuous brag that “I got bottles” is tainted by the June nightclub incident in which Brown and rapper Drake allegedly hurled champagne bottles at each other in a fight over superstar Rihanna. Both “Don’t Judge Me” and “Stuck on Stupid” are sweet love songs that hark back to the singer’s seemingly long-ago years as a teen idol, but the titles may elicit snorts from those familiar with his history of bad acts (a 2009 assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna chief among them).

But most people taking the time to listen to “Fortune” are probably not interested in criticizing Brown. Fans who’ve stuck by him aren’t about to pick apart their idol, and those who would gladly dissect Brown’s every misstep and flaw aren’t exactly running out to buy — or even listen to — his music.

That the world seems divided into three camps when it comes to Brown — those who will always hate everything he does, those who will always love everything he does, and those who have no idea who he is or what he does — frees him to do pretty much whatever he wants creatively.

That position is what allowed him to produce 2011’s game-changer, “F.A.M.E,” where he ditched the no-longer-appropriate puppy-love songs and debuted edgier dance tracks and more mature R&B ballads. “Fortune” is no “F.A.M.E” — it sounds like it, sure, but doesn’t move Brown to any new ground musically. The guy’s not afraid to take musical risks — over the weekend he released a thinly veiled Drake diss track that has him rapping rather than singing — but “Fortune” is a familiar mix of electro-pop, dance and R&B.

The most daring track on the album takes all of those elements and stirs them together: On “Till I Die,” genius producer Danja wraps alternating synths around a thick R&B backbone, while guest rappers Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean dart in and out between Brown’s vocals. The rest of the album is more genre-compartmentalized.

Dance fans have already stamped “Turn Up the Music” a hit, and they may next turn their attention to “Party Hard,” an up-tempo ode to a girl who lives to be “wild and free.” Early single “Strip,” produced by Tha Bizness, is so successful in blending PG-13 and NC-17 sex that it has crept onto the playlists at gentlemen’s clubs and commercial radio stations alike.

Brown has never been one to explore his inner or outer turmoil on record, but “4 Years Old” seems to be the young singer’s “Heaven, I Need a Hug.” Brown doesn’t directly address any of incidents he has been involved in on the vulnerable, stripped-down ballad, but he talks about having “everything he wants,” yet nothing he needs, and feeling like a kid again — rudderless but hopeful that things will work out when he’s all grown up. It’s a rare moment of Brown expressing anything other than confidence and self-assurance. Too bad the people he most needs to hear it probably never will.

Godfrey is a freelance writer.

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