In 1987, Bruce Springsteen released Tunnel of Love, an album that most observers believe is a portrayal of a man struggling with his marriage to actress Julianne Phillips. Springsteen’s marriage ended after two and a half years.
Bobby Brown’s third solo album, Bobby, reminds me of Tunnel of Love. Artistically, there is no comparison; Springsteen’s album is entirely self-written and is judged by critics as a modern classic. What the two albums share in common is the glimpse they provide into the life of the artist when the music was created.
As executive producer of Bobby, Bobby Brown was in charge of choosing the material for this project, and what a wide range of songs he chose! Bobby is a fascinating look at a multifaceted personality, and this is why it ranks with New Edition’s Heart Break as one of my all-time favorite albums.
Bobby falls short of greatness because Brown tried to appeal to too many different types of music fans. How do you start an album with a hard-edged romp like “Humpin’ Around” and close it with the contemporary gospel-like song “I’m Your Friend”?
Imagine the pressure Bobby must have felt. He was faced with the challenge of following up his breakthrough album, Don’t Be Cruel, adjusting to life as the husband of pop diva Whitney Houston and dodging the barbs of both music and tabloid journalists.
Bobby Brown showed determination from the opening cut. He literally scratched away the memory of Don’t Be Cruel and launched into a sprawling 13-song statement (a hypothesis: when a musician releases an album with black-and-white cover art, he is asking to be taken seriously.) “Humpin’ Around”, “Get Away” and “Something In Common” were answers to his critics.
There’s prototype New Jack Swing in “That’s The Way Love Is”, a reggae-influenced song in “Good Enough”, straightforward R&B with “Lovin’ You Down” and “College Girl”, and a message song (“Storm Away”). Bobby definitely gets an A for effort.
Don’t Be Cruel is a more cohesive work, but nothing on that album, even “My Prerogative”, is as raw and personal as “Two Can Play That Game”. This is one of the darkest, funkiest and complex songs I’ve ever heard. Bobby reveals his heart and soul in this great tune. In contrast, “Til The End Of Time” has Bobby offering a heartfelt expression of hope and romantic devotion.
Today, you can buy this album for less than the cost of an ITunes download. If you’re a fan of popular music, Bobby is worth a lot more than 99 cents. If you’re a fan of “The Bob” and New Edition, Bobby is indispensable.
Read more about Bobby Brown and New Edition at NE20.com.