Perhaps the greatest enemy of Chris Brown’s poorly received last album was time. Released in December 2009, just six months after the multiplatinum crooner pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna, Graffiti — frankly, not a bad collection at all — was widely panned. Everything from the title of his new disc, F.A.M.E. (an acronym for the off-putting title ”Forgiving All My Enemies”), to his recent nude photos and ill-advised tweets suggests that Brown has not yet mastered the art of image rehabilitation. Musically, though, he’s in top form. F.A.M.E. (out March 22) shines brighter than anything he produced before that now-infamous incident. Melodic raps on tracks like ”Say It With Me” and ”Oh My Love” lead to intoxicating hooks, as do bedroom knockers ”Wet the Bed” and ”No Bs,” which for better (or worse) rival the bump-‘n’-grind heights of ’90s Casanova crew Jodeci.
The uncertainty of love is a recurring theme on the album: On the thumping midtempo cut ”Next to You,” Brown and guest Justin Bieber trade verses assuring their ladies of their dedication. The more relevant question is whether Brown can count on his old fans to be just as devoted. The fact that several singles have already crept into Billboard’s top 20 is a good indication that he’s winning them back. Graffiti clearly came too soon. And some still think Brown should go — and stay — away. But on its own merits, F.A.M.E. deserves to be heard. B+