They say those who refuse the past are doomed to repeat it, but Chris Brown’s past has proven consistently more fascinating than his music. Consequently, it’s no surprise that his domestic assault has always been the go-to topic for media outlets over the last couple of years, no matter how strenuously he tries to escape it. Still, has there been a less spontaneous display of ersatz realness in recent memory than Brown’s much-publicized window-busting, shirt-tearing tantrum backstage at Good Morning America this week, all too coincidentally on the very same day his new album F.A.M.E. dropped? And has there been an easier, crasser explanation from a recrudescently debased egomaniac than the tweet that immediately followed, in which Brown moaned about how Charlie Sheen has gotten a free pass for indulging in his own worst impulses (and is, in fact, arguably more popular than ever), while Brown can’t seem to sneeze or fart without once again being run ragged by the snarkers that be? If Brown previously only gave off the vague impression of being the type of person who believes himself to be an even bigger victim than the real victim, this week’s actions removed all doubt.
But even worse, is that what he’s going for? The unfortunate but inevitable nihilism one faces when considering the stardom of people like Brown forces one to also conclude that no PR move is accidental, and the fact that he name-dropped Sheen only reinforces my skepticism. So does the fact that GMA is not going to press charges, a move that got appropriately rebutted by a Videogum blogger with two salient points: “WHY?” and “FUCK YOU.” In response, I say a) because GMA benefits from this incident, and b) damned straight. For what it’s worth, one-time Slant contributor Rich Juzwiak doesn’t seem to think Brown is guilty of anything other than being a recurring fuck-up with questionable levels of self-awareness. Fair enough, because if Brown is wrapping up the bad-boy public persona he’s increasingly comfortable embodying, it’s not a posture he reflects in the album his PR campaign is meant to support.
Indeed, the title’s acronym is intended to either represent “Forgiving All My Enemies” or “Fans Are My Everything,” neither of which suggest the “Fuck, Another Mess-up Exaggerated” tone he’s going for extracurricularly. Which is good for impressionable ears, but dull for discerning ones. Again, his album isn’t really much of anything other than a collection of avoidant club jams (the spin class-ready “Yeah 3x”) and indirect overtures of love/lust (the passive-unaggressive “Up 2 You” and “She Ain’t You,” which matches carbon-copy sentiment by recycling SWV’s sample of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”).
The cute-to-ick ratio is significantly more favorable than it was last time around, when he was all but blaming Rihanna for his continued problems, but it’s cool because he’ll dust it off anyway. At worst, the album’s pheromones come on like a spoonful of R. Kelly’s discolored jelly, as in the drool pool “Wet the Bed.” Bad enough to open with “I ain’t afraid to drown if that means I’m deep up in your ocean/Girl, I’ll drink you down, sipping on your body all night,” but letting Ludacris boast “Women call me the Super Soaker and Ima soak your bed to death” as the moist backbeat ejaculates all over is like some new form of jizz torture.
Alternately, his stabs at recapturing the majesty of “Forever” are rendered limp by the undercurrent of sincerity and, in the case of “Next 2 You,” the deployment of Justin Bieber, who should know better by now. And I can’t imagine what would possess Brown to share a track with Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes. One alone would’ve been enough to point up just how little personality he exudes on his own tracks, but putting both on “Look at Me Now” ironically renders him invisible.
The album’s two strongest tracks come from the same producer, H Money, who with unerring logic buries Brown deep within the pulses of his slightly too fast R&B-house stomps: the overtly MJ suggestive “Say It with Me” and the hyperventilating “Oh My Love,” which boasts so many fussy, unpredictable chord changes it sort of resembles what a Steely Dan/Basement Jaxx collaboration might sound like. Sadly but predictably, it really isn’t until the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, when he drops a “Bomb” with Wiz Khalifa, that you ponder how Mr. “Black and Yellow” has hooked up with Mr. Black and Blue, and then you remember what’s been hiding in plain sight throughout the entire album.