Chris Brown always seems to be coming back from something or other. Following his arrest and guilty plea for assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in February of 2009, Brown returned to the music world with Graffiti, which received mixed reviews and was not embraced by the market. Slowly but surely, he has been building up his reputation again, mostly on the strength of some killer singles ("Deuces," his collaboration with Tyga and Kevin McCall from the Fan of a Fan mixtape, was one of the best songs of 2010). So that makes F.A.M.E. something of a comeback album for Brown, whose voice and performance charisma have never been denied.
F.A.M.E. finds Brown exploring new avenues in R&B, hip-hop and especially dance music. Brown recently told MTV News that his fourth album is the best yet at showing off all the sides of his creative mind.
So does F.A.M.E. represent Brown's return to the top of the R&B heap? Many critics seem to think so. "It is a more mature, confident and adventurous Brown who has emerged in the wake of all the drama, and he has delivered the strongest album of his career," wrote Steve Jones in USA Today. "With songs such as the dismissive 'Deuces,' defiant 'Look at Me Now' (featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes) and salacious 'Wet the Bed' (featuring Ludacris), Brown is taking it to the next phase."
Jody Rose of Rolling Stone agreed, noting that the songs on F.A.M.E. are much stronger than the entries on Graffiti. "F.A.M.E. boasts blockbuster hits and shows Brown has a good nose for production," he wrote in a three-star review. "[It] is a pop 'n' b album with something for everyone: bedroom ballads, dance-floor thumpers and even 'Next 2 You,' a puppy-love declaration with guest vocals by Justin Bieber."
Brown also got a tip of the hat from Entertainment Weekly, whose Brad Wete said that F.A.M.E. "shines brighter than anything he produced before that now-infamous incident." That particular review attempted to divorce Brown's public persona from his music. "Graffiti clearly came too soon. And some still think Brown should go — and stay — away. But on its own merits, F.A.M.E. deserves to be heard."
Still, not everybody is able to get over Brown's private life. In a two-star review in the U.K.'s The Independent, critic Andy Gill wrote, "The acronym apparently stands for 'Forgiving All My Enemies,' a typically self-pitying claim on the moral high ground from someone who, lest we forget, was convicted of assaulting a woman. Isn't forgiveness something Brown should be requesting, rather than bestowing?"
Sarah Rodman of the Boston Globe also felt that F.A.M.E. needed to be truly exceptional in order for Brown to win the uphill battle of acceptance, and ultimately he has come up short. "While he has paid his penance, the gifted young R&B crooner needs to understand that when he sings on his new album, out today, about being the culprit for a romantic demise, barks at girls in the club not ready to party to 'shut the [expletive] up,' or waxes on about making a girl 'beg for it,' even his most diehard followers might cringe," she wrote. "So Brown needs to bring the undeniable every time. Unfortunately that's not what he's done with this middling fourth album."
Ultimately, most critics (and most importantly fans) seem to be willing to let Brown move on and enjoy F.A.M.E. as an excellent collection of modern R&B. "While he fails to reward those fans who are everything to him with a great collection of pop-RnB, Brown at least gives them reason to believe," BBC Music critic Nick Levine wrote. "At 21, he remains enough of a fledgling to forge a more fully-formed musical identity as he matures. Crucially, having sent two singles into the top 10 this year already, the MP3-downloading public seems willing to give him that chance."
What do you think of Chris Brown's new album? Let us know in the comments!