Chris Brown is a perpetual underdog, constantly on a comeback from something, and his latest album, X, is the breadcrumb trail that he hopes will lead him back to the pop pedestal he once stood on.
Breezy's X was originally scheduled for a 2013 release, off the back of his Michael Jackson-inspired sing-along "Fine China," but after mounting legal trouble and mandated anger management treatment, the album was pushed back. Brown was then arrested in March on a probation violation and locked up until June, putting the LP in limbo for the first half of the year.
Luckily for Chris, his music reigned and the album was finally released on Tuesday (September 16). Project lead-ups like the aforementioned "Fine China" and the Nicki Minaj-assisted "Love More" proved that Brown had legitimate heat to offer, but it was his December single "Loyal" that burned up the the Billboard charts.
X feels like it exists in two parts. There's the standard edition album with sure-fire winners like the love-in-the-club tune "New Flame," with Usher and Rick Ross. Then there's the deluxe edition, which tacks on the older 2013 offerings at the end. While there's surely some label-backed marketing reason that explains the division, X is best when digested as an entire body of work.
"Don't Think They Know" features a posthumous performance from Aaliyah and a vocal throw to Jon B.'s 1998 hit "They Don't Know"; and honestly, the track is too good to simply assign it to a bonus track.
Not that there aren't great moments throughout. In fact, Chris excels when he pays homage to 1990s R&B. "Songs On 12 Play" with Trey Songz salutes R. Kelly's groundbreaking 12 Play LP. Then on "Drown In It," Breezy links up with the Pied Piper himself and together they sing of the generous sexual favors each one offers to his lady. Brandy also shows up for "Do Better," where the two duet to try to save a broken romance.
X isn't all throwbacks: "Drunk Texting" is a song perfectly suited for 2014, while "Autumn Leaves" with Kendrick Lamar is driven by the type of emotive expression that rules R&B today. Then, of course, there's his dance-y, Ariana Grande collaboration "Don't Be Gone Too Long."
With 20 tracks in total, there are a few misses, like the Danja-produced math equation "Add Me In," but as usual Breezy delivers a number of great musical moments that will ensure him another 10 years in the biz.
There is nothing on X that hints about whether Brown has turned a corner in his roller-coaster celebrity life, nor did we expect to find any. What X does prove is that no matter what happens to Chris outside of the studio, his in-studio track record will go on unblemished.