Monday, July 9, 2012

album review: 'fortune' by chris brown

Short version: even by the low, low standards of dance music, I can't recommend this album. Easily in contention for one of the worst albums of the year (not just by me, either, the critics are panning this album), and if society had any taste, it would end Chris Brown's career. I have nothing kind to say about it, so if you like rants, keep reading.

Longer version...

Ugh, I hate this. I really don't want to do this.

Seriously, I don't. I was actually seriously considering combining the three reviews I planned for this long weekend together, and not because of any profound thematic connection or even a shared genre. No, I was going to combine them all together because I don't want to have to put myself through this three times in a row. 

I mean, it's not often you see this sort of thing. Three albums released within days of each other, none of which I can comfortably say reach any sort of good. And in this particular case (with this album), this is the kind of bad that spirals down clear past 'So Bad It's Good' into the void of dispassionate loathing and hatred.

And on the topic of dispassionate loathing, let's talk about Chris Brown.

Look, I'm desperately trying to approach this without letting my own personal biases and tastes get in the way, but strictly as a performer, Chris Brown has always struck me as an inessential pop star. I mean, we already have an Usher, why do we now need an Usher-wannabe? And furthermore, what does Chris Brown do that a half dozen other pop/hip-hop performers in the same vein couldn't do? Between Jay Sean, Taio Cruz, Colby O'Donis, Iyaz, Trey Songz, and even that talentless twit Jason Derulo, what makes Chris Brown the special little sunflower? I mean, I can admit that Chris Brown is a reasonably talented singer and a superb dancer, but as an artist, as someone who is trying to convey new ideas in interesting or thought-provoking ways, he's not compelling in the slightest. Some have considered Chris Brown analogous to a black Justin Bieber, but I don't buy it - as much as I've been annoyed with Bieber, I can't deny that the kid has serious musical talent and at least a shred of artistic integrity, compliments that I cannot and will not give to Chris Brown.

But here's what's really infuriating - it's not Bieber who Chris Brown is looking to emulate. No, he's got his sights much higher, aspiring for the same throne Justin Timberlake and Usher want - the coveted throne for the next Michael Jackson. But unlike those two, Chris Brown is trying to claim that crown not with talent or new ideas, but with copy-pasted imagery and sheer unbridled bravado.

And you know what? I can't believe I'm saying this, but in some cases, that can be enough. Sometimes, sheer confidence and charisma can be enough (although I'd be loathe to say Brown has actual charisma, but I'll get to that). Take a look at John Travolta's singing career, both tied to musicals and outside of it (yeah, he actually had a hit in 1976 called 'Let Her In', and it's awful). From a technical level, the man is not a good singer in the slightest, but he's got enough confidence and style to really give his songs a unique flavour that lets you overlook most of it. Or let's get more recent and talk about Ja Rule, a rapper who based his career on clumsily copying the legendary Tupac Shakur, but he was still successful enough because he knew how to manage his image and had a reasonable amount of charisma (at least before 50 Cent and G-Unit destroyed his career). What I'm saying is that sometimes, sheer swagger and charisma can be all you need to be a pop star.

Except this is Chris Brown. And in early 2009, there was a certain incident involving Rihanna that everybody knows about, and which did a number on Chris Brown's public image and career (although Jay-Z, Rihanna's mentor, may have contributed to the latter's failures - if that's true, I wish he had stopped this disaster). Now, like any sane person, I feel absolute contempt for what Chris Brown did, but bad people can still make good music - hell, Axl Rose, Mystikal, and Akon are proof of that. Hell, I can still listen to music by Phil Spector, and he's a convicted murderer! So what about Chris Brown?

Well, at this point I need to talk about something called cognitive dissonance and how it applies to me with music. This principle is fairly simple: at certain times, you can dissociate the identity and personality of the artist in the song from that of the actual person. For me, this occurs when I listen to more violent or dark punk, rap, or metal - part of me is excited by the thrill of listening to something dangerous or sinister, but at the back of my mind, I can easily remind myself that they're not serious. Take Eminem, for instance: despite the man's horrifying and revealing honesty on some tracks ('Kim' and 'Beautiful' spring to mind), anyone in their right mind can tell you that anything he says as his 'Slim Shady' persona is intended to shock and shock only. Or take R. Kelly - the man has been accused of some horrible, horrible things in the past decade, yet I can still buy into and enjoy his love songs. Part of it is because he's just that damn good, but the other part ties into this cognitive dissonance.

Now, granted, I don't need to use cognitive dissonance all the time. Hell, some artists (Kanye West springs to mind) have built their entire careers on being unflinchly, often uncomfortably honest and open, blurring the line between the artist and the actual person. And when it comes to rappers and hip-hop artists, you tend to buy that if they're looking to brag, they're not blurring the line.

And this all leads to my problem with Chris Brown now as a performer: any dissonance between his artistic persona and his actual one has completely faded for me, even if I wanted to have it. In other words, any time I hear Chris Brown attempt a love song, I can't buy into it. Maybe it's because I can't exactly forgive and forget that he put his girlfriend in the hospital, or his generally obnoxious behaviour in the following years, or maybe it's because he named his last album Forgiving All My Enemies, but I can't associate my mental image with the 'smooth R&B singer and uplifting pop superstar' image that Brown likes to use. Clearly his deluded, besotted, and bafflingly large fanbase has bought into it, but I can't.

But here's the wonderful thing about Chris Brown now: I no longer need to worry much about any sort of cognitive dissociation, of disconnecting the image of Chris Brown the woman-beating tool with Chris Brown the 'uplifting pop superstar'. Why? Because his newest album Fortune did a fine job of fusing those images together into a mass of misogyny and horrible music I haven't heard since... well, since the single 'Deuces' that Chris Brown put out off his last album. Go figure.

You want proof? Here is a definitive list of what each song on Fortune is about:

  1. 'Turn Up The Music' is a badly mixed club song that distinguishes itself only by the grating of the synths, the sloppy nursery rhyme flow, and the utter pointlessness of the lyrics. 
  2. 'Bassline' has one of the worst hooks I've ever heard, flirts with badly-implemented dubstep, has Chris Brown return to the childish nursery rhyme flow (which adds a whole new layer of creepy onto everything) and begins the trend of explicit objectification. It's shameless in the worst possible way.
  3. 'Till I Die' is a song about weed that proves Chris Brown knows nothing about marijuana, remains completely shameless and borderline pornographic, and his collaborators (Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean, neither of whom are good) completely embarrass themselves trying to rap worse than Brown - and they succeed.
  4. 'Mirage' is where Brown hits on a girl by insulting her (in fact, upon closer examination of the lyrics, I'm fairly certain this song is intended for Rihanna, and that just makes me really uncomfortable), the beat is sluggish and muddled, and Nas delivers a sub-par verse that would be better in a different song.
  5. 'Don't Judge Me'... okay, you know what, I'm done trying to be calm and fair with this jackass. 'Don't judge him', after what he did to Rihanna and her career? Yeah, fuck that noise, I'm perfectly in my rights to judge you, Chris Brown, particularly in this song, where you are caught cheating, and try for forgiveness with a combination of intimidation, begging, and accusations of your partner's infidelity. You know, just what women want to hear.
  6. '2012' is a highly explicit and pornographic song detailing how Chris Brown has sex - because that's what pop radio needs, the image of Chris Brown thrusting. If this song gets airplay, America is doomed.
  7. 'Biggest Fan' is a song where Chris Brown explicitly sings about fucking a girl he claims is his 'biggest fan'. Well, fandom, guess you got your wish, but that doesn't mean it's not a gut-churningly horrible song.
  8. 'Sweet Love' is the third song in a row about Chris Brown having sex, where he promises to satisfy the girl only as soon as she gets him off. I wish I was kidding. I'm not going to be able to get the mental images out of my head. Brown, you are not Usher, and I don't want to consider the possibility you might reproduce.
  9. 'Strip', possibly one of the worst songs on the album, where all Chris Brown wants to do is you strip (possibly unaware that T.I. did a song with Trey Songz in the same vein in 2010 and did it miles better) and fuck him, and where Kevin McCall continues embarrassing himself as one of the worst C-list rappers working today.
  10. 'Stuck on Stupid' is a song where Chris Brown compares being in a relationship with being 'stuck on stupid', and he says it's the fault of the girl. No, Chris Brown, I just think you're permanently stuck on stupid. Also, fuck you.
  11. '4 Years Old' is when Chris Brown brags about being successful, but says that no success can compare to love, using the metaphor of 'being four years old' for having no responsibility. It's amazing how incoherent Brown gets whenever he's not singing about sex - almost as if he was four years old or something (honestly, these punchlines write themselves).
  12. 'Party Hard / Cadillac' is probably the best song on the album, in that it's merely bland and dull, with Chris Brown trying to pick up a stripper and doing it badly. It's got a decent backbeat, though, probably the only highlight of the album.
  13. 'Don't Wake Me Up' is the other decent song the album, and it's amazing how much better the songs get when Chris Brown doesn't try to elucidate on any subject other than dancing. It's only okay, though, nothing all that special.
  14. 'Trumpet Lights' tries to do the same thing as the previous track, but isn't nearly as good (good being a relative term, obviously). The beat is the only thing close to interesting, but it feels overmixed and sloppy. 
Did everyone get all that? On the bonus edition, there's five additional tracks which vary between the meh and the godawful, but I think I've made my point with the fourteen above. Simply put, Chris Brown has definitively proven that he's a skin-crawlingly repulsive human being that deserves a bottle to the face and a boot to the nuts (preferably a steel-toed boot, or one of Ke$ha's glitter-smeared cowboy boots for irony, but any boot is fine). And if the lyrics didn't make that abundantly clear, the delivery sure as hell does. Chris Brown goes for his old crooning ways on some of the tracks, but the lyrics drip so heavily with insincerity you can't buy it anymore. And most of the time his voice goes aggressively nasal to force the rhymes, and even then it often completely fails. 

Oh, and did I mention the actual lyrics? Suffice to say, I'm not going to be posting any of them - they're horrible, and I feel my IQ dropping with each reading - but if someone wanted evidence of a problem in the production studio, this could be a place to start. Besides the shockingly explicit parts, every single song has between three and ten writers on it. I want you all to think about that - there were songs that had ten people writing them, and they still couldn't make Chris Brown remotely likeable!

As for the beats, they're probably the least offensive part of this album, but I still can't recommend them. Most are overmixed and sloppy, with too many bad ideas crammed together. There's no restraint on most of the production, and when there is, the beat is so obnoxiously bad that you wonder how the hell they didn't toss it out at the drawing board. 

At this point, I have a vague idea of what Chris Brown might have been trying to do with this album - between the sexually explicit lyrics and occasional dance track, it looks like Brown was trying to make Usher's Looking 4 Myself. And with that comes the resounding truth: Usher's music about sex works because it's mature, smart, and restrained, written carefully and most often focused on the partner. Chris Brown's music about sex fails because it's immature, stupid, explicitly pornographic, written sloppily by committee and entirely focused on Chris Brown himself. His lyrics make him come across like a spoiled teenage pissant, who tries to talk about explicit sex around school to make himself look cool, not realizing everyone thinks he's a fucking creep.

To conclude, do not listen to this album. Do not torture your friends with this album. Don't waste your time trying to persuade Chris Brown fans to hate this album - if they like it, that tells you something definitive about their standards. I don't think that I'm the person qualified to pass judgement on others based on their tastes, but considering the critical thrashing this album is justly getting, you probably can pass judgement on people based upon their opinion of this piece of sexist, pornographic garbage. Even if you're a fan of Chris Brown and you're somehow still reading this review, I can't recommend it to you either, because of how unintentionally revealing this album is of the creepy and pathetic 'artist' who put it out. Stick with the good Chris Brown songs (for me, I don't mind 'Forever' or 'Yeah 3x'), and avoid this garbage and maybe, just maybe, Chris Brown will just go the fuck away.

Next time: I tackle Maroon 5's 'Overexposed', which is still bad, but at least in a more interesting way, so I'm a little more forgiving. Emphasis on 'little'.


  1. Oh, if only he would just go away. If only...

  2. Does a boot to the face and a (broken) bottle to the nuts sound better than what you've already suggested? Yeah, so that's more than a little savage, but this is Chris fucking Brown we're talking about. He's not a figure worthy of a great deal of mercy or sympathy.

  3. But isn't Chris Brown bipolar? I'm not defending him, the album is still shit.

  4. Go away. I always wondered where is away.