Released on the heels of ex-girlfriend Rihanna’s mostly even-tempered but still smoldering Rated R, Chris Brown’s new album, Graffiti, won’t be able to avoid being heard—and likely rejected—as a rebuttal. Is that fair? Maybe not. But then again, no one forced him to release “I Can Transform Ya” as a leadoff single. Sadly, the only compelling thing about the incoherent Graffiti is the material (both external and internal) that makes it even less palatable than a simply below-average collection of paint-by-numbers R&B beats. In contrast to Rihanna’s album, which builds up a head of even-tempered outrage, Brown spends most of Graffiti wondering why the rest of us haven’t simply moved on when there’s a new party up in here. (The lampshade on his head is, this time, doubling as convenient blinders.)
But it’s the few times he sobers up and condescends to acknowledge the elephant in the room that push Graffiti into impressively tactless territory. As Michaelangelo Matos wrote over in The Singles Jukebox, “Brown’s little PR disaster is the closest he’s ever come to evincing much personality in the first place.” If that’s the case (and no one ever said presence of personality equaled valiance of personality), then “Famous Girl” is real enough to hurt. With lyrical references to busted car windows and both “Disturbia” and “Forever,” all set to a typically sunny hook, Brown all but absolves himself of the apologies that came from being a “Changed Man” and comes out—cough—swinging, impugning Rihanna for breaking his heart. Does he follow the song up with an explanation for breaking her face? No, he instead wallows in the pity party that is “Lucky Me.” “Even though I’m so damaged, I gotta pick myself up and perform for the crowd,” he wails. Ah, the burdens of being loved. They cut so deep.