If there was one lesson to take away from the Hulk in The Avengers, it’s that repressing anger will get you nowhere. Once you learn to deal with it and even harness it, then you can defeat your demons (or, in the Hulk’s case, a Norse god). Maybe someone should take Chris Brown to the cineplex, because Fortune, his fifth album and his third since pleading guilty to assaulting then girlfriend Rihanna in February 2009, furthers the uncomfortable and frustrating disconnect between Brown’s hotheaded personal life and his oddly edgeless musical persona.
Fortune’s lyrics largely focus on his favored themes: clubbing, getting women to take off their clothes, and swagginess. Plenty of accomplished R&B lotharios tread that territory, but Brown lacks R. Kelly’s commitment to fantasy or Usher’s raw-nerve honesty. The only time the uncensored Brown seems to emerge is on “Bassline,” where he declares, “You heard about my image/But I could give a flying motherf— who’s offended.” The sentiment is wildly unlikable, but at least it feels honest.
Brown’s colorful hooks and splashy electronic innovation have continued to bring him success post-Rihanna, but almost nothing here swerves out of Fortune’s featherweight club-funk cruising lane. What’s worse, the album doesn’t resolve, or even ask, any of the fascinating questions about what makes Brown tick. The Hulk is still in there — look no further than his Twitter feed for proof — but as long as Brown keeps Bruce Banner behind the microphone, Fortune fades. C-