What possessed me to buy Bobby Brown’s new album, The Masterpiece? Well, curiosity. The former “King of R&B” hasn’t released a new album since 1997’s disastrous Forever, and I was wondering if a 15 year layoff would result in some good material a la his New Edition groupmate Johnny Gill’s recent Still Winning.

Boy, was I wrong.

While JG pretty much ignored current trends and made a classic-sounding Johnny Gill album (albeit with a handful of modern touches,) Bobby apparently thinks that his audience and Chris Brown’s are one and the same. The result is an overly synthesized, processed sounding collection of what’s supposed to sound like futuristic pop ‘n b but instead sounds like low-budget mediocrity, for the most part. I should also mention that most of the songs are poorly written (man, does this guy miss Babyface and Teddy Riley) and although Bobby has turned into a much better vocalist than he was in his Don’t Be Cruel heyday, he doesn’t always bring the goods with his voice, either.

The Masterpiece is mercifully short. At 10 tracks, the album runs less than 40 minutes. However, there’s really only one song that will grab your undivided attention-a pretty cover of Stevie Wonder’s “All In Love Is Fair” that features an uncharacteristically subdued performance from the aforementioned Gill. Makes me believe that with some sympathetic production and well-written songs, Brown might have had a fairly decent album on his hands. Even first single “Don’t Let Me Die” (which was good enough to make me seriously consider buying the album in the first place) is solid, even though it’s modern production makes it the most overtly pop thing Bobby has ever done up to this point. So-one good song, one pretty decent song, and…that’s pretty much it.

Bobby still seems stuck on his “My Prerogative” steez—way too many of these songs are about his perceived persecution and getting past “haters.” It’s what I like to call “Michael Jackson ‘HIStory’ disease.” And while history has shown that MJ was probably not guilty of anything more than utilizing poor judgment, Bobby doesn’t have as strong a defense of his persecution complex. And not to beat a dead horse, but he doesn’t have songs as good as “Stranger In Moscow” or “Tabloid Junkie,” either. What was kinda novel from a lyrical standpoint in 1988 doesn’t fly so well in 2012. Songs like “Get Out The Way” and “Can’t Give Up” are pretty damn stale. Although the guy deserves some sympathy for being made the scapegoat in the death of his ex-wife Whitney Houston (you didn’t think I was gonna leave that elephant in the room alone, did you?) the fact is that Bobby has been more than complicit in cultivating his own negative image. Bottom line-stop whining and make good songs, and all will be forgiven.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to forgive here. The Masterpiece is far from the joyful or revelatory listening experience that the title implies. Bobby, I don’t wanna be this cruel to you (for serious–I’ve been a fan since ’83) but this is one little step I wish I hadn’t taken with you. Next time, I’ll leave your album on it’s own.

(OK, enough with the shitty Bobby puns.)

Grade: D

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