Chris Brown - F.A.M.E. (Album Review)
This review is based on the 18-track deluxe edition of Chris Brown's album, F.A.M.E. (Note: the 5 extra tracks add much value to the original 13 tracks on the standard edition). After listening to the album in full, as per my usual routine, I have mixed feelings about this album as a whole. As an artist, Chris Brown has undeniable talent as a vocalist and entertainer. Although I can respect the diversity of the songs on the album, F.A.M.E. lacks a feeling of unity between the tracks themselves, and I feel the album suffers as a result.
The acronym, F.A.M.E., has two meanings according to separate statements made by Brown. It can either mean “Forgiving All My Enemies” or “Fans Are My Everything.” Both make perfect sense in the context of this album because Brown certainly shares his opinions on both enemies (critics) and fans. The dominant acknowledgement, as far as overall approach is concerned, definitely leans more in favor of this being an album for fans, though.
There really isn’t much structure to this album, honestly. Brown does a lot of switching between genres (discussed more below), and the album has no particular feel to it across the tracks. He goes from one mood to the next and makes almost no attempt to form any connections between the tracks other than by him being present on each one.
Due to a lack of a defined mood or underlying theme to unify the songs, F.A.M.E. felt like a really long album, too (even before I got past the standard tracks and into the deluxe material). This is definitely not a sit down and just listen to it album. I will skip several tracks the next time around (or make a playlist where I put similar tracks together). It’s just exhausting having to constantly switch back and forth into different modes of listening. F.A.M.E. is not fluid, and, for better or worse, I think this fits into Chris Brown’s ultimate intention to make this an album for the fans.
Style and Genre-Hopping
The trend these days is for artists to dabble in different genres of music and not be too confined to one thing so as to maximize their audience. Unfortunately, most artists, even by staying within their “genre comfort zone,” still can’t deliver a solid album all the way through from an unbiased perspective. Falling short of the ideal doesn't happen from lack of effort most of the time (although that can be the case, too), but rather because, all things considered, it’s just difficult to put together a classic album period, regardless of talent. Usually, on any given album, the majority of the tracks are “okay,” and the rest are split between greatest hits and “skip-it-every-time” tracks. F.A.M.E. is “any given album.”
The album's music incorporates R&B, pop, hip-hop, reggae and Europop styles. Some would call such an abundance of genre exploration “growth.” Others would label it a marketing tactic. Regardless, I don’t think that branching out should ever be considered a bad thing. It should, however, be approached accordingly and in a way that enhances the artist and whatever genre of music is being performed (some styles requiring less effort than others, of course). The plan is one thing, but the execution is something entirely different.
Usually, at best, an artist only gives superficial treatment to “unfamiliar” genres, and ends up relying mostly on either the quality of a track’s production or the credibility of a featured artist to bridge any gaps. When this happens, artists have more to fear, not from their own die-hard fans (most of whom will still love them regardless of a misstep), but rather from fans of the respective genre. Improper execution can easily defeat the initial purpose of branching out, i.e., appealing to more/different people.
Also, when an album, like FA.M.E., continues genre-hopping back and forth from track to track without finding some common ground within the music itself, for purposes of smooth transitioning (often achieved by combining complementary genre elements), the chances of establishing the album’s identity drop exponentially. No matter how versatile an artist may be, that artist can't suddenly go from pop to reggae or R&B to techno without some sort of cohesive element between them.
Finding balance where it seemingly can't exist is what creates groundbreaking music. Anything else just sounds thrown together and passed off as "growth." Identity is what makes an album (as with many other things in life) worth remembering. Aside from whatever distinction Chris Brown may add based on his exceptional vocal talents (or future presentations/demonstrations of live showmanship), F.A.M.E., as an album lacks a true identity.
An Album for Fans
With all of that said, I feel that in order to give the album justice, one must view it not as Chris Brown’s personal album but as a collection of tracks for fans (current and hopeful). I got the impression that he was trying to put his own limited spin on things in an attempt to give fans of different music genres (somehow excluding rock and country) at least three tracks that fans of the respective genres could (maybe) get with. Hip-hop people will get theirs; “baby-makers” will get theirs; glow-stick waving people will get theirs, etc.
Brown seems as though he’s trying to cater to every possible audience without necessarily trying to satisfy all of them at the same time. You’ll find a track for you on there somewhere, maybe. Everything is “safe” - like there’s a formula to each track/style and Brown doesn’t really add or take anything away from that formula. What you get is a lack of development “across” the tracks.
By my own (admittedly high) standards, I can’t really call F.A.M.E. a good album even though it has some good tracks on it. The absence of a compliment doesn't always imply the truth of the opposite sentiment, however. This is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. I just don't feel that the individual elements work towards the betterment of the whole. Each track stands alone and clearly has a target audience, and because there is little room for overlap, most listeners of the album will either love it because it’s Chris Brown (i.e., simply “okay” for the rest of the population), or not like it very much. Casual listeners should be able to pick out a few favorite tracks and skip over what’s left.
Overall, with F.A.M.E., Chris Brown proves that he is capable of doing a lot of different things, but this doesn’t make the album as a whole worthy of inclusion on his list of most noteworthy efforts. That’s just my opinion.
Endnote: Deluxe edition featured artists, Big Sean (“Paper, Scissors, Rock”) and Chipmunk (“Champion”), caught my attention. Interesting sounds are coming from both. I might pay closer attention to each of them in the future.