I like Chris Brown. There is something great about songs that defy your expectations. When I first heard the album, Now That You're Fed, I just thought there was something nice and comfortable about the sound. There is no doubt in your mind when you first listen that you are listening to someone that enjoys a good pop tune. Here is a man that clearly was brought up on a healthy diet of Beach Boys later maturing to Matthew Sweet. And I think that is the closest comparison I can make to Chris Brown. But the comparison extends beyond the pop sensibilities and into the production. Sweet plays a majority of the instruments on his albums and Brown does the same. And also, like Sweet, the fun of Brown comes from his lyrics.
A perfect example would be the first track on the album, "Right on Time." This song has the Beach-Boy-iest (my word, soon to take the world by storm) layered vocals, dripping with honey sweetness as they build on top of each other. "I see you're right on time." By the time you reach "time", you're at the apex and you're hooked. What Brown does wonderfully from there is that he proceeds to take your expectations of simple song about being on time to be all lovey dovey and flips it or-to quote Benicio Del Toro from Usual Suspects-"flip ya for real." This song is about an ex coming to pick up a child for their visitation. Say what? Exactly. "But I'll awake to greet the dark./ I'll meet your boyfriend in the park./ I'll be the jet to meet his shark in my tights." A West Side Story reference? Are you kidding me? This is awesome.
Brown isn't only a songwriter but he is a filmmaker as well. I think that his strength in creating engaging, imaginative lyrics comes from his ability to paint convincing characters in his songs. "Waiting for Caroline", "Things She Laughed About", "April", and "Another Girl" all are songs that breathe life into female characters. Whether Brown knows these women personally or has shaped them from nothing, they are fully realized. "April" has a tragic single mom trying to get her life in order but failing. "Feigning sleep politely/she is staining pages in the night/ and waiting for another life/ outside the one she's living/ using up the life she's giving." The desperation that April presents is counterbalanced with the confidence that Jill from "Another Girl" is given. "Jill, she made a peace sign/ with Snoopy by her side/ Like Lucy at her psyche stand/ feet firmly on the ground/ as she takes away the football from good ole' Charlie Brown." It is through these extremes of light and dark, happy and sad that gives the listener the space to comfortably fit in-between.
My only complaint with this album is the tendency to sound a little over produced. This is never more evident than in the song "Waiting for Caroline." The vocals have been overdubbed so many times that the song ends up sounding like it was sung by a mens chorus. And I'm not sure that is a good thing. It did make me curious as to how Brown would sound if all of that was stripped away and you were left with only a guitar and his vocals. I imagine the songs would still hold up. But maybe there is a reason that the Beach Boys didn't do an unplugged album.