Review : Chris Brown - Graffiti
SpinOn his first album since his infamous altercation with then-girlfriend Rihanna, Chris Brown sounds genuinely remorseful. He pleads for forgiveness, understanding, and some time off. (Too bad. Holiday album sales have never been more important.) But Brown doesn't let any of this obstruct a good party. He makes monster club songs. He's comfortable over the bouncy sirens of "Wait" or on "I Can Transform Ya," a typically bombastic Swizz Beats production featuring an energetic yet nonsensical rap from Lil Wayne and brisk, joyful vocals from Brown.
The album's most striking moment is "Fallin' Down." Over a ominous guitar riff, the 20-year-old sings, "It's getting heavy / I think I'm getting ready to break down." It's the most honest moment of his short career. The kid sure needs a vacation....full text
EwIf there are indeed no second acts in American lives, someone neglected to tell Chris Brown. Less than a year after his assault on then girlfriend Rihanna, the PG-rated R&B dreamboat (two platinum albums, high-profile endorsement deals)–turned–pop culture pariah has returned with a new record. Frankly, a longer hiatus seemed in order, but the public has already spoken: Graffiti's swaggering lead single, ''I Can Transform Ya,'' is a top 20 hit. Less forgiving listeners looking for signs of contrition may find them on the genuinely affecting second single, ''Crawl,'' and the yearning, piano-laced ''So Cold,'' though it's too soon (perhaps ''10 past never'' is a better time) for the hard-to-swallow pity party ''Lucky Me.''
A clutch of throwaway midtempo tracks don't seem to justify Brown's hasty return, and Graffiti hits a few genuinely cringe-y notes — among them, the icky female-orgasm outro on ''Take My Time,'' a lecherous slow jam better suited to low-rent lotharios like Pretty Ricky. The rapturous hook of ''What I Do,'' however, easily transcends its standard-issue ''I'm rich and fancy'' boasts, and the fizzy Casio trip ''I.Y.A.'' and Steve Winwood-sampling ''Pass Out'' step to the level of his dance-floor-directed best. With his actions this year, Chris Brown strapped cement boots on the zero-gravity pleasures pop music is meant to provide. Graffiti won't magically fix that, but at its best moments, it still floats. B-...full text
RollingstoneThe cover of the new Rihanna album features a severe black-and-white head shot of the star. She has her hand clapped over her right eye; her left eye, surrounded by a raccoon ring of mascara, glares back at the viewer. The context here is no secret: It is impossible to look at those eyes without remembering the images of Rihanna's bruised face in the aftermath of her beating in February by ex-boyfriend Chris Brown. Until recently, the singer has been quiet about the incident. Songs like "Russian Roulette" — a domestic-violence victim's confession whipped into soaring melodrama — tell us why: She was busy saying her piece in the studio.
If by some accident of fate, or maybe record-company cynicism, the new Chris Brown album has arrived at the same moment as his ex's. The results tempt a reviewer to talk in terms of moral victories, but the real triumph here is artistic. Chris Brown has made a bland, occasionally obnoxious, pro forma R&B album. Rihanna has transformed her sound and made one of the best pop records of the year.
Brown mostly ignores the elephant in the room, churning out punchy dance-pop songs full of club-ready beats and Casanova gestures. He gloats about "the cars and the girls and the cribs." He promises ecstasy ("Gonna make you bloom like a flower," he tells the girl in "Take My Time"). There are also lost-love ballads, delivered by Brown in his nasal wisp of a singing voice. But as unfair as it sounds, the Rihanna incident has made it impossible to hear him in the same way; the sweetness that animated songs like 2008's "Forever" is now a hard sell.
With Rihanna, singing has never been in doubt. The question has always been personality: Is there a flesh-and-blood woman lurking beneath the big voice and model looks? On Rated R, she answers the question emphatically. There are a couple of engaging uptempo tunes. (The StarGate-produced "Rude Boy" is smutty fun, with a Caribbean bounce.) But this is an album with a grim theme: love gone horribly wrong. "What you did to me was a crime," Rihanna sings in the slow-boiling "Cold Case Love." Elsewhere, she is bent on vengeance. "I lick the gun when I'm done," she cries in "G4L," "because I know that revenge is sweet." The songs are etched in somber shades and minor chords, with Rihanna belting over synths and booming beats. The results are a musical match for the black-on-black CD cover — goth R&B....full text
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