Chris Brown’s got a little Usher in him. On this second studio album, a mixture of light R&B, treble-heavy dance, and rap-infused pop tunes (“Hold Up” and “Wall to Wall”), Raymond’s vocal stylings are evident.
You hear Usher’s influences especially on “Take You Down” and the number-one hit “Kiss Kiss,” featuring rapper T-Pain, also the song’s producer. Also, the high-pitched choruses for “Damage” and on “Take You Down” has Brown evoking a bit of vintage Michael Jackson falsetto (and, perhaps, there’s homage to Thriller in Brown’s posing with what looks like a black baby tiger inside the CD jacket?); yet despite the allusive comparisons to the “King of Pop,” Brown clearly asserts his own voice. Undeniably, he outsings his duet partners Rihanna (said to be his girlfriend) and Jordin Sparks with ease on their respective songs “Umbrella” and “No Air.” Were this not true, mediocre tracks on Exclusive like “Lottery” and “Down” would be total busts.
One wonders though, if the songs on Exclusive are purposefully inconsistent, oscillating between adolescent and mature themes to replicate the strains and conflicts any 19-year-old (not just Brown) suffers while fumbling towards adulthood — (that would have been a clever and ambitious concept album) — or whether the smorgasbord of producers Brown enlists (the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am and the Underdogs among them) is simply yanking him in different creative directions. The songwriting if not the theme could clearly have been stronger and devoid of throwaway tracks like “Help Me,” for example.
Although teenybopper songs like “With You” (whose acoustic guitar licks sound a bit like Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”) and “Picture Perfect” underscore Brown’s youth, with stronger and more seasoned material like “I Wanna Be,” Brown has a chance to match if not overtake Usher Raymond. Add a little bass, drop the last three songs (the crass “Lottery,” “Nice,” and “Down” — not to mention Kanye West’s useless featured performance on the latter) and “Help Me,” and Exclusive is a fairly tight first start.
Chris Brown: www.chrisbrownworld.com