Trying to get his career back on track was hard for Chris Brown, who saw his last album, Graffiti, suffer low sales and get ripped to shreds by many critics. If the critics weren’t panning the man behind the music for his wrongs, they were vexed by Graffiti’s lack of a cohesive direction.
It’s true. Graffiti was pulled in many different directions, but understandably so. Between a private life in turmoil, a busted public image in serious need of repair, lamenting said busted image, holding onto the growing pop audience he captured with his biggest hit to date, “Forever,” expressing himself as a maturing (i.e. sexual) male, and playing to the contemporary R&B fans he’s had since his debut in 2005, Chris had a lot of ground to cover. It left Graffiti garbled with quasi-apology records, woe-is-me records, break-up records, bedroom records, and the expected radio-ready party records.
On his latest effort, F.A.M.E., anything having to do with that fateful night in February 2009 and his now tarnished reputation is left out of the music’s content and piled into the double meaning of the title (F.A.M.E. stands for both “forgiving all my enemies” and “fans are my everything”) so he could focus solely on Chris Brown: The Artist.
The musical schizophrenia, genre-wise, remains, but it’s 100% intentional and done much better this time around. (It should be noted that even with its ups and downs, Graffiti wasn’t a bad record.) Chris slips and slides through uptempo dance jams and melodic R&B-tinged grooves as effortlessly as he glides across a dancefloor on the set, resulting in what is easily his best album yet. His pop side is its glossiest on “Next To You,” a tender duet with fellow pop powerhouse Justin Bieber, he skips through Michael Jackson-Off-The-Wall-style disco on the silky “Say It With Me,” channels pop rival Justin Timberlake on bass-heavy banger “Oh My Love,” makes a strong play as Busta Rhymes‘ rapid-spitting apprentice on “Look At Me Now,” also featuring Lil Wayne, and touches “Forever”-esque Euro-pop greatness with “Yeah 3x.”
F.A.M.E.’s finest moment comes on the Timothy Bloom-produced “All Back,” a stirring, live instrument-driven track about deep anguish and regret over love lost. With all of the musical cocktails Brown tries, “All Back” is a stunning Rock&Blues mix we haven’t heard before from him. The song’s lyrics present a sort of strange irony considering his situation. “I want it all back,” Brown belts mournfully over the soaring chorus. With an album as solid as F.A.M.E., career-wise at least, Brown will definitely have it all back.