It would be too easy to trash Chris Brown’s new album, right?

The guy’s a certified asshole. Not content to man up and apologize for his widely-publicized beating of Rihanna, he’s been a one-man self-implosion device since then-bitching about being blackballed, going on random Twitter rampages and most recently, going bananas after Robin Roberts dared ask him about the Rihanna beating on “Good Morning America”.

But what does the fact that he’s an asshole have to do with his music? Let’s look at this objectively. Over the course of the rock era-nearly sixty years-there have been many superhuman instances of assholery, from Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his teenage cousin to Vince Neil driving drunk, killing a guy, and continuing to get arrested for various offenses, to R. Kelly (allegedly) pissing on a teenage girl to Lil Wayne, The Game, and Snoop Dogg announcing their gang affiliations in interviews and on wax. I’m not gonna split hairs and say that one offense is worse than another, but in most of those cases, the sociopathic behaviours have not had much to do with critical appraisal of their art.

I’m not making excuses for Chris-he’s got a lot to learn and will probably never learn it. I personally refuse to spend any money on his work (although I own three of his four albums-including his latest, I got them all for free as promotional copies). I’m also not comparing him artistically to people like Jerry Lee Lewis, R. Kelly or even Ike Turner and Chuck Berry (three of these four men are poor excuses for humans who also happened to more or less invent rock ‘n roll.) Chris Brown is not a fantastic singer, certainly not a songwriter of any consequence, but with F.A.M.E., I’ve gotta admit that the guy (or at least the people around him) knows how to put together a fairly listenable rhythm ‘n pop album. Considering the work of the other artists who are in his lane (namely Justin Bieber and Usher), Brown’s album is easily the most accomplished of the bunch-although a good Chris Brown album can’t be counted the same as a good album by, say, Ne-Yo, if only because their skill sets are on completely different pages.

Brown (or Brown’s people) were maybe at a loss to figure out where his audience was going to be following the relative failure of his first post-arrest album, 2009’s Graffiti. Somewhat smartly, they went after several different audiences and scored with all three-the sex-you-up slow jam set (as typified by the horny ballad “No BS”), the Euro-flavored dance crowd (exemplified by the amped-up anthem “Yeah 3X”, and modern-day hip-hop heads, who get their first taste of Brown as an emcee on “Look at Me Now”, a song that features fellow fuckups Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes. Rapping is certainly not Brown’s strong suit, but the song isn’t bad for what it is. Despite being a Grade A asshole, Busta remains an electrifying emcee, and this song actually contains one of my favorite Weezy performances. Nevertheless, these songs have allowed Brown to diversify his portfolio a bit, something that Bieber can’t do (because he’s too white and Canadian to legitimately stake a claim to the hip-hop audience) and something Usher’s been moderately successful at, but at the long-term expense of his original R&B audience.

I won’t front-there’s some catchy material on here. Although the album gets off to a tasteless start with “Deuces” (when you’re best known for beating the shit out of a woman and the first song on your album contains an Ike and Tina reference, something’s wrong), his anonymous, processed voice is perfect for some of the peppier numbers, including the club-centric “Beautiful People”, the Michael Jackson via SWV-sampling “She Ain’t You” and the pop-radio friendly “Next to You”, on which Brown’s voice blends perfectly with…Justin Bieber. It’s hard to take the more adult sounding R&B ballads seriously-not because of Brown’s history, but because his voice isn’t strong enough to generate any legitimate sensual heat. Comparing a singer like Brown to slow jam specialists like Teddy, Marvin or even Bill Withers (someone else who has long been rumored to have beat the crap out of his then-wife, actress Denise Nicholas) is laughable. He too often sounds like a little boy trying to step into grown man shoes, even with Ludacris’s help on the absurdly-titled “Wet the Bed” (this is just screaming for an R. Kelly joke, but I’ll let you fill in that blank.)

Look, I’m not gonna tell you what to buy and what not to buy. I can’t say I would have paid money for this album, but I’m also not saying you SHOULDN’T. Bad behavior shouldn’t be rewarded, but as entertainment lovers-think of the amount of creative people we wouldn’t support if all sociopathic artists were pulled out of the equation. No point in attempting to over-intellectualize. F.A.M.E. might have been performed by a guy who deserves to be kicked in the balls, but as music, deserves to be heard on it’s own merits-provided you’re a fan of the type of music being performed.

Grade: B-

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