Chris Brown has had quite a year. In February, on the eve of the Grammy Awards, he allegedly assaulted then girlfriend Rihanna, sparking an international outcry from both music lovers and curious onlookers. The rest of the year was a tabloid media frenzy, culminating with Brown being sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to perform over 100 hours of community service for the offense. But despite the legal woes and venom the embattled young star had to face in the wake of his troubles, he was determined to resuscitate a music career many predicted would never rise again.
On Graffiti, his recently released third album, Brown aims to kick things up a notch from his last outing, Exclusive. However, the new album is largely a musical misfire, delivering a middling 14-track set of mostly mid-tempo songs bolstered by big-budget production, some catchy melodies and his usual pop-driven songwriting. With just a handful of memorable tracks, the project never quite achieves that wow factor or magical coherence that distinguished Exclusive from the sea of male R&B records we've waded through in the past couple years.
A blend of contemporary R&B, hip hop, soul and electro-pop, Graffiti gives nods to Brown’s influences like Prince, Usher, Stevie and MJ, but relies too heavily on a swath of throbbing beats to stay afloat. “I Can Transform Ya,” from super-producer Swizz Beatz, makes for an arresting first single (on which rapper Lil’ Wayne lends an amazing verse), and is followed up by the heartfelt “Crawl,” about rekindling a love affair after disappointment.
Brown also assembles a long roster of collaborators for the new album — Trey Songz and The Game on “Wait;” singer/producer Tank on “Take My Time;” newcomer Ester Dean on “I Love You;” and Plies raps on “What I Do” — but, with the exception of Plies, such contributions bring very little flavor to the broth.
Among the highlights, though, are the Ryan Leslie-produced “Famous Girl” — which contains the line, “I should never have wrote Disturbia” — the eerily true-to-life “Fallin’ Down,” and the beautifully sublime “Glow In The Dark.”
Where Chris Brown's two previous albums scored big with fans as well as critics with their delightful range of lyrics and melodies backed by his strong and beautiful voice, Graffiti is overpowered simply by its zeal to prove that he’s still got “it.” Make no mistake, while Brown’s appeal has waned in the eyes of some, his talent remains undeniable. He just needs to dig a little deeper right now.
BEST TRACKS: "Glow in The Dark," "Crawl" and "Famous Girl"