CD Review of Exclusive by Chris Brown
Recommended if you like
Ray J, Ne-Yo, Michael Jackson
Label
Jive
Chris Brown: Exclusive

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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B
rown’s eye-popping performance at the 2007 Video Music Awards capped an impressive two-year run for the young R&B singer, sparking comparisons to Michael Jackson’s epoch-starting dance routine at the Motown birthday celebration. Heady praise for a kid still in his teens, but perhaps not entirely undeserved; hell, Exclusive stands head and shoulders above anything Jackson has deigned to release since…well, there’s no need to ramp up the hysteria any further. Suffice it to say it’s been a long time since a young R&B singer released an album that so nakedly aspired to world-busting crossover status.

Exclusive doesn’t quite get there, but that has as much to do with the hyper-fractured nature of modern radio playlists as the music itself – they simply don’t make stars the way they used to, and Brown’s chances of grabbing the brass ring held by Jackson (or even Usher) are slim, but it’s still entertaining listening to him try. If Brown’s old-school debts aren’t readily apparent to older ears, that will probably have a lot to do with Exclusive’s painfully bright, brittle mastering – this is a record built to be blasted, in the club and on the street, and if you’re seeking subtlety (or even a little sonic warmth), you’re going to come away disappointed.

Aside from its sound, Exclusive’s main problem is its length. Eager to please, Brown stuffs the record with a little bit of everything – and ends up with 16 songs, not all of which deserved inclusion. Part of what holds him back here is his age – he’s stuck between playing to his teenage audience (by talking about his teenage experiences) and trying to broaden his appeal with older listeners. He does a little of both; unfortunately, it’s when Brown slows things down that his weaknesses as a performer stand out the most. He occasionally rises above the material – “With You,” for instance, sounds like After 7 having sex with Zapp & Roger on Keith Sweat’s bed – but really, he doesn’t yet have the chops to pull off a slow jam with over-13 appeal.

Even when he stumbles, though, Brown is usually likable enough to carry the day – even on an album that’s longer and more uneven than it should be, he’s just got too much charisma to ignore. It may not be Thriller (or even Off the Wall), but this is only his second time out; give him a couple of years, and we could have a brand new King of Pop on our hands, whatever that’s worth.

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