Five years after Chris Brown’s assault on his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, the R&B star continues to exercise some dubious judgment about the words he uses in his music. “I’ll calculate a home invasion,” he sings in “Add Me In,” a track from his new album; later, Brown promises to show a woman “what it means to be a victim of love.”
Listening to these tunes (and many others on “X”), you start to wonder whether Brown, recently released from jail after serving part of a one-year sentence for violating his probation, might have escaped a real awareness of his public persona. But then how to account for the ominous title track, in which he broods over his reputation before growling, “I swear to God I’m moving on”?
What makes the clumsy way Brown handles language even more befuddling is how exacting he remains as a singer and record maker. “X” contains some of his sharpest work, including “Add Me In,” a chewy soul-funk tune in which he accents his creamy vocals with percussive gasps a la Michael Jackson.
And “Loyal” is the latest in a series of Brown singles that pair his coarsest thoughts — in this case, about women he views as gold diggers — with his sleekest beats. It’s nasty enough to make you think Brown has happily taken up the role of R&B’s archvillain — at least until the tender electro-soul cut “New Flame.”
“I just wanna be the one to do you right,” Brown pleads, and he almost sounds like he knows what that means.