Bobby Brown - Masterpiece (2012)

Bobby Brown
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There’s a popular cliché that posits rats, cockroaches and Cher as the only three life forms capable of surviving an apocalypse, but if the last twenty years have been any indication, Bobby Brown needs to be added to the list. As mesmerizing as he is mercurial, the 43-year-old Boston native and Grammy-Award-winner and former teen idol has succeeded in becoming a household name, thanks to his tenure with New Edition, those 80s and 90s mega-hits and the infamous history of alcohol and drug abuse, which contributed to creating one of music’s most scintillating and self-destructive couples this side of K-Ci Hailey and Mary J. Blige. Even as his life spiraled out of control and reduced him to a crude caricature of ‘the pop life,’ Mr. Brown’s dedication to sobriety and reclaiming his “King of R&B” title never wavered, which is why he’s been clean for over seven years and finally able to end a 15-year recording hiatus with his fifth solo CD, Masterpiece.

There’s a popular cliché that posits rats, cockroaches and Cher as the only three life forms capable of surviving an apocalypse, but if the last twenty years have been any indication, Bobby Brown needs to be added to the list. As mesmerizing as he is mercurial, the 43-year-old Boston native and Grammy-Award-winner and former teen idol has succeeded in becoming a household name, thanks to his tenure with New Edition, those 80s and 90s mega-hits and the infamous history of alcohol and drug abuse, which contributed to creating one of music’s most scintillating and self-destructive couples this side of K-Ci Hailey and Mary J. Blige. Even as his life spiraled out of control and reduced him to a crude caricature of ‘the pop life,’ Mr. Brown’s dedication to sobriety and reclaiming his “King of R&B” title never wavered, which is why he’s been clean for over seven years and finally able to end a 15-year recording hiatus with his fifth solo CD, Masterpiece.

Whether you’re a curious and casual fan of Bobby or a ride-or-die supporter, anyone listening to the ten tracks will hear the authenticity and the ambitiousness that Mr. Brown pours into the project. Not only did he executive-produce and co-write all but one of the selections, he explores deeper and more daring topics than ‘Boy-Meets-Girl:’ there’s synth-laden anti-paparazzi manifesto “Set Me Free” and a fiercely funky ode to friends and family, “Can’t Give Up,” which feels like a sequel to the 1989 smash “My Prerogative” in its resolve to declare that he’s too through with meeting the expectations of others and couldn’t give a damn if folks like it or not. “Exit Wounds” offers one of the CD’s most vulnerable and compelling moments, a ballad that recounts the pain of a break-up that left gaping flesh where his heart should’ve been: “Never thought that I would see the day that I’d be here without you/ I know I’ll never find another who could love me, like you do Baby. And I’m hurting yeah, there’s no prayer for this agony/I will count the days til’ I see your face.”

A couple of other selections prove that Mr. Brown can certainly, given the opportunity, hold his own against his younger peers that are now dominating the airwaves: “Get Out The Way,” an earlier single, has been re-tooled to retain less strident edges and more neo-soul compatibility than its earlier version, and the song “Damaged,” even as it may remind some of Omarion’s hit “Icebox,” is compelling.  Where Masterpiece falls short is when it recycles current trends that are ill-fitting of Brown’s age group and make the music become redundant instead of relatable: Bobby’s grainier vocals pair up assuredly with Johnny Gill’s velvety ones on the Stevie Wonder-penned “All Is Fair,” but doing yet another song that brags about whips, chips and chicks (“Starmaker” with Jayre) or how big and bad he is on and off-stage (“Doesn’t Anybody Know,” featuring Ralph Tresvant) diminishes his credibility and threatens to relegate him to The Old School for good.

Mr. Brown’s Masterpiece is like all other types of subjective artwork: one can overlook the flaws (craggier vocals, uneven production and conflicting artistic cues) and purchase it for the overall aesthetic value, or it can be dismissed for not being perfect and keep R&B fans from endorsing a man who’s embracing his gifts for what they are instead of licking his wounded ego and lamenting what might have been. Whether or not Mr. Brown Is capable of ever retrieving his “King of Stage” crown again is unclear, but the same growth and humility that helped him to record “Man I Want To Be,” a song that outlines his desires to be his best for his loved ones, will keep him in the game for as long as Mr. Brown’s willing to play it, and that’s half the battle of maintaining a legacy---surviving the race. Moderately Recommended. 

By Melody Charles

 

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