The February 2009 night Chris Brown assaulted his pop star girlfriend Rihanna is inextricable from his music — it colors every glide and every coo. But where contrition and redemption would have been the path of a less proud artist, Brown has doubled down on aggression. “F.A.M.E.,” an acronym for “Forgiving All My Enemies,” is his second album since the incident — 2009’s “Graffiti” was an ignoble failure — and it is unapologetically defiant.
From the effervescent kiss-off “Deuces” to the space-age sonic bender “Look at Me Now” — the most prominent of Brown’s surprisingly deft, if extraneous, attempts at rap — the transitioning heartthrob vacillates between petulance and punch throughout. He is also relentlessly lewd: “Wet the Bed,” featuring Ludacris, explicitly speaks for itself.
But he is also young at 21, a fact made inescapable by his voice — a reedy and thin but appealing vibrato. When Brown dabbles in shamelessly au courant Eurohouse, such as in “Beautiful People,” featuring and produced by the Italian pop-house staple Benny Benassi, that voice is nearly swallowed whole by wall-to-wall production.
A more appropriate application appears on “She Ain’t You,” which interpolates Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Jackson has long been the emotional, physical and musical forebear to Brown. But on “She Ain’t You” he begs the comparison, and it isn’t pretty. When Jackson lashed back, he could grunt, thrust and moan his way into a feral state. Brown is no animal presence. Just another man-child.
“Look at Me Now,” “Deuces”