If there are indeed no second acts in American lives, someone neglected to tell Chris Brown. Less than a year after his assault on then girlfriend Rihanna, the PG-rated R&B dreamboat (two platinum albums, high-profile endorsement deals)–turned–pop culture pariah has returned with a new record. Frankly, a longer hiatus seemed in order, but the public has already spoken: Graffiti's swaggering lead single, ''I Can Transform Ya,'' is a top 20 hit. Less forgiving listeners looking for signs of contrition may find them on the genuinely affecting second single, ''Crawl,'' and the yearning, piano-laced ''So Cold,'' though it's too soon (perhaps ''10 past never'' is a better time) for the hard-to-swallow pity party ''Lucky Me.''
A clutch of throwaway midtempo tracks don't seem to justify Brown's hasty return, and Graffiti hits a few genuinely cringe-y notes among them, the icky female-orgasm outro on ''Take My Time,'' a lecherous slow jam better suited to low-rent lotharios like Pretty Ricky. The rapturous hook of ''What I Do,'' however, easily transcends its standard-issue ''I'm rich and fancy'' boasts, and the fizzy Casio trip ''I.Y.A.'' and Steve Winwood-sampling ''Pass Out'' step to the level of his dance-floor-directed best. With his actions this year, Chris Brown strapped cement boots on the zero-gravity pleasures pop music is meant to provide. Graffiti won't magically fix that, but at its best moments, it still floats. B-
Download This: Listen to the song What I Do at last.fm