Review: Chris Brown Plays The Blame Game On Cathartic Album 'X'
Chris Brown always has some making up to do. More than other artists, it’s hard to hear his songs and not consider the real-life circumstances—his assault on Rihanna in 2009 and the subsequent series of public fuck-ups, including his D.C. assault case, which resulted in a 108-day jail sentence. His relationships and his music are eternally linked. Mentioning the worst sometimes feels like you’re failing at forgiveness. Forgiving him feels like conceding. It’s everything like a break-up. So when Chris sings lyrics like this on his sixth album, X, it seems deliberately twofold: “I’m starting to hate me a little more and more each day/I don’t know me/It’s like I can’t get out of my own way/You don’t love me/You don’t love me/If I knew better, I would do better.”
Playing off this theme of loss and Ex-Factors, X explores the fallout of a failed relationship in all its phases—the fresh grief, self-pity parties, real partying and fake forgetting. Mostly, though, the album dwells on the initial post-breakup aftershock, purging and the holding-on part, versus the smart introspection that comes later. Chris attempts to move forward and find new love. He sort of does but gets stuck looking back. He tries to take blame, but it’s overshadowed by bravado. He’s sorry, but not that sorry. He’s a mess of ego, and that frustrating emotional clutter is what makes this album a compelling listen.
The two greatest loves of Brown’s 25-year-old life (Rihanna and Karrueche) have wreaked havoc on his psyche. A homemade video titled “The Real Chris Brown” that popped up in 2012, showed Chris confessing. In it, he considered whether it’s possible to unconditionally love two women at once and said, “I don’t wanna hurt either or. I’m not trying to be a player. I’m not trying to be a dog, none of that… I just care too much.” Which is funny because in his music lately, he’s been prone to player behavior, as if that’s where he enjoys the freedom of being the angry bad guy without consequence.
The macho posturing is the most flagrant on his groupie takedown “Loyal,” an obnoxious NicNac production and slow-building sleeper hit that you still hear everywhere. Here, in a matter of a few bars, Chris manages to flaunt new money (“Just got rich”), steal another man’s girl (“Took a broke nigga bitch”) and consider upgrading a groupie's status before deciding against it because of her lack of coins. You're forced to love it, conditionally.
Chris has a knack for making memorable songs on forgettable albums (“Don’t Wake Me Up” and “Turn Up The Music” on 2012's Fortune) For a while, he coasted with elliptical-friendly Euro R&B like “Forever,” "Don't Wake Me Up" and “Yeah 3X,” all great guilty pleasures. Those international club anthems seem part of his DNA now, but rather than the vexing rule (like on Fortune) they're the welcome exception on X and feel less forced—"Body Shots" features a weird-cool clash of vocal spasms and synths. The album instead opts mostly for straight R&B and pop from a mixed bag of producers (NicNac, Danja, Anonymous), and it's either snappy club tracks or the type of depressive, moping records currently resonating with Eeyore's favorite millennials.
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