Junk Mail: Chris Brown's 'X' Reviewed By Email
Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers casually email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling, Caitlin Carter chat about Chris Brown's new album, X. Feel free to join in the conversation in the comments section, and check back next week for more.
Carolyn Menyes: I guess I should start this off by saying that sorry, but Chris Brown is still a pretty deplorable person. Maybe he's a little better now? But I doubt it. With all his terrible actions and behaviors and controversies aside, I actually sort of thought X was a great R&B album. I feel a little shame about this.
Kyle Dowling: I don't know if I love or hate the fact that there are 21 songs on the deluxe edition of X, but I do know there were some serious ups and downs for me on this record. It's hard for me to separate the fact that his music isn't totally terrible, but he as a person tends to be. I'll share in Carolyn's shame on this.
Caitlin Carter: Well, well. Looks like we are on the same page here. I attribute the 21 song tracklist to the fact that this was supposed to come out a while ago. With a longer gestation period, I think they just threw everything they had into the mix and called it X. In my opinion, though, they could've trimmed the fat a bit and made it a solid record rather than one with ups and downs as far as hits go.
CM: I'm just going to say it... I hate that this album was 21 songs long. Yeah, I get that there was basically a year release delay and I'm sure #TeamBreezy was hungry as hell for new material, but wow... it's so tiring after a while. This thing is like Disney movie length, at a cool 74 minutes. And it's not like you can (or should) avoid the deluxe edition, since it's got those major guest stars Nicki Minaj and Aaliyah on it. This is a reason to be salty at Chris Brown for things OTHER than his behavior.
KD: I think I'll agree with you two. Having 21 songs is way too long. Admittedly, I didn't want to listen to anymore Chris Brown after a while, but I stuck it out for the good of the team (and not #TeamBreezy). I enjoyed Nicki Minaj's appearance on it, however. So, we all agree that the album is a bit lengthy, but it DID succeed in delighting us at parts. So, what did you enjoy?
CC: I tended to gravitate toward the songs at the end of the record.
I'm a big fan of Kendrick Lamar, and I thought he did a good job on "Autumn Leaves" speaking for Brown in a way and sort of giving him advice. "When you make mistakes the most, the most, one day it'll make you grow, you grow. When you outlandish and you lose manners. To God you shall consult, consult. When the bright cameras are still cramming in your face and it provoke, provoke. You act manic, just stay planted, cause you reapin' what you sowed."
I thought this song above all had Brown confronting his demons. I honestly had hoped we'd see more of that self-awareness rather than the clichéd lines that didn't feel all that personal. But moving on... I was also a fan of his track with Minaj ("Love More"), and Brandy ("Do Better"). It sort of allowed a female perspective into his often misogynistic storylines. I have a few songs that I wasn't a fan of, but I'll let you guys talk more about what you liked before we go into the things we didn't.
CM: "Autumn Leaves" is probably in my top 25 songs of 2014 so far, thanks largely in part to Kendrick's guest verse. I'm a fan of his anyway, and I just think the way his verse builds is pretty masterful. Love the extended iceberg metaphor in the lyrics too, just like you Caitlin. It's really engaging and I'm obsessed. Brown's part works well too, I love how light his voice is in the chorus. There's a real sense of remorse and yearning and it really does feel airy, not unlike some floating autumn leaves. So good.
In general, I really prefer when Brown slows things down quite a bit. "New Flame" won me over when it was released a few months ago, for a lot of the same reasons as I like "Autumn Leaves." Whatever about his personal relationships... they're messy as hell, but Brown can really sell a love song. Remember "Forever?" It's something pretty interesting about him, but I'll take it for what it is.
I hate to be so basic and choose singles as my favorite songs, but whatever... labels pick promotional songs for a reason. That being said, I also love the emotional dynamics of the title track, "X." When Brown growls "I swear to god I'm moving on," it really grabs me.
As for non-singles and non-"Autumn Leaves," I'll also choose "See You Around" as a solid song. Interesting to hear Chris Brown with acoustic guitar... not an expected combo at all.
KD: I'd agree that Kendrick Lamar's part on "Autumn Leaves" is quite the grab, and rather emotional. It's undoubtedly one of the tracks that stopped me (in my tracks?) and made me give a real listen ... quite a few times, actually. It somewhat goes back to something you said, Caitlin, regarding hoping he would have had more self-awareness in the album. I would agree 100%. "Autumn Leaves" is the perfect example of this. Look what happens when he does it ... Carolyn. Caitlin and Kyle love it. So, why do anything else?
"New Flame" may be my favorite track on the album. I really enjoyed Rick Ross' part. I also felt "Add Me In" had a real Michael Jackson vibe that I dug.
And as much as I hate to disagree, Brown's growl of "I swear to god I'm moving on," just didn't sit with me. Why? I don't know.
CC: As far as what I didn't like: As catchy as "Loyal" is, I really don't like it. I'm not a fan of misogynistic lyrics in general, although I can have a sense of humor about it when it works. But I feel like "Loyal" and "Stereotype" were basically the same song with the same message. When you have 21 songs, you should only really put down gold diggers once, if at all.
CM: "Loyal" is pretty disgusting, I am apt to agree. And the music itself is pretty clunky, too. Not a fan. I don't know if I can pinpoint more particular songs that I didn't like. The main thing that kind of was a dislike for me on this album is that a lot of the songs were just plain forgettable. I just don't have anything to say because I just don't care about them.
KD: Can we please talk about the fact that "Drunk Texting" should NOT be a song? I cannot describe how much anger fueled inside of me when I heard this track. So much so that when I re-listened to the album, I skipped right the hell over it. While the chorus is catchy, it kills me because the lyrics are incredibly base, shallow and all out ridiculous. And what's worse is that I'm sure there's a whole group of people who will dig it. (sorry if either of you are one of those people).
CM: "Drunk Texting" was another one of those songs that just kind of went in one ear and out the other for me, so I listened again for closer. It is pretty vapid and repetitive and basic. No lies there. And it's a shame because both Brown and Jhene Aiko are really talented; they could have done a killer love song together. As someone who may or may not be an avid drunk texter, though, so maybe it just hit too close to home. Womp womp.
CC: To be honest, I didn't really hate the song. It sort of reminds me of a less awesome version of the Arctic Monkey's "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High." It wasn't super memorable for me, but I definitely get the message. We've all been there (or maybe I shouldn't make that assumption).
KD: I think it's safe to make the assumption. It's undoubtedly part of our ... culture? Or something. Either way, it's popular enough to warrant a song so it's apparently pretty dang popular! What are your opinions on the new album compared to his older material? Just curious.
CC: So Chris Brown has always been pegged as the next Usher or Michael Jackson, but I don't think he has yet to put out something iconic. I think X has a lot of good tracks, but most iconic albums are concise and are great because they get to the point and are powerful with their delivery. X is just too all over the place. With the amount of talent that Brown has as a singer, I think he needs to take the best out of this album and really hit home with his next release. As far as his past releases, I haven't ever been blown away.
CM: I can't speak much to older Brown material. I've avoided most of his music purposefully for a long time... though maybe I should go back and give him another chance? I agree with Caitlin, though. X is a good album and a solid R&B effort, but it's not GREAT. A few stunning tracks does not a classic make.
KD: I would agree. X is good ... not great. There are a few tracks that I really did enjoy, which we spoke of here, but it's still hard for me to separate the Chris Brown on the album and the Chris Brown in real life.
CM: I guess a way to mark X would be to call it inconsistent. The highs are crazy high, with "Autumn Leaves" being a stunning example of what, exactly, an R&B song can do emotionally. But the lows are just so forgettable for me that I can't really even comment further on them. Brown should've edited himself before releasing this.
CC: Yeah. Overall, this album really just needed to be edited down to the essentials. Brown has something going here, but the length and the lows are too distracting. Now that he has his feet back on the ground, we might hear something more focused on his next release.
KD: It seems we all agree. X has some great highs and very low lows. The length is insanely distracting. Perhaps with some more attention to detail, it could have earned higher praise. That said, there are certainly some gems and it's undoubtedly worth a listen.