Chris Brown’s fifth studio album, “Fortune” (RCA), is a pure-pop candy cane, meant to be enjoyed, consumed and forgotten. Thinking would ruin everything. At its best, it does its job very well – a mix of bangers and ballads as instant and insistent as anything on commercial radio.
Like most of the singer’s albums, its mixture of smut, vulnerability, menace and dancefloor celebration tells us next to nothing about what is going on between Chris Brown’s ears, which is probably for the best. In his most expressive moments, Brown plays a not very likable character: a demanding rogue who wants sex, and wants it now, no questions asked. “No is not an option,” he declares in the groupie-love ode “Biggest Fan.”
“Nice thighs, nice waist,” he oozes in “Strip,” then adds, almost as an afterthought, “and you know I can’t forget about your face.” The relationships in these songs don’t require much in the way of conversation or intellect, and Brown’s narrator clearly prefers it that way.
Some listeners will never forgive Brown for beating up his former girlfriend, Rihanna, several years ago, though Rihanna seems to have done so, recently collaborating with Brown on two remixes. Brown pleaded guilty to assaulting the singer and was sentenced to five years probation, one year of counseling and six months of community service. Yet his career has continued to sail along. His 2011 release, “F.A.M.E.,” became his first chart-topper and won a Grammy Award as best R&B album.
If Brown has any regrets or has experienced any personal growth, he’s kept that out of his music. On “Fortune,” he makes one oblique reference to his past on “Don’t Judge Me,” in which he pleads with a new lover to “take me as I am, not who I was,” otherwise, he suggests, “it could get ugly.”
It’s a sentiment in keeping with an album that is all about surface needs and shallow relationships. Little wonder the music cuts to the chase with ear-grabbing efficiency. The snaky robo-reggae feel of “Bassline,” the way martial drums rise and disappear throughout “Till I Die,” the star-burst keyboards that paint the background sky in “Sweet Love” – the production by a trove of collaborators (Pop Wansel, Danja and Polow da Don among them) is often dazzling in the details.
Brown’s voice is serviceable but hardly exceptional. He sounds best when he’s just a background accessory, strutting onto the dancefloor for “Turn Up the Music” and chanting on “Trumpet Lights” that “I’m gonna be the one you love,” as if saying it enough can make it so.