- - Monday, July 2, 2012

Fortune

Chris Brown

RCA

On his first two albums, Chris Brown was boyish and charming, a purveyor of PG-rated love songs that targeted a very specific audience — young women — without angering any parents. After all, he didn’t sound like he wanted to seduce the girls; he just wanted to pick them up on Friday evening, take them out to a nice dinner and have them home by 11 p.m. “You’re my sweetheart and I’m so glad that you’re mine,” he sang during one song, like a true Southern gentleman.

That was before June 2009, when Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault against Rihanna. Something changed that summer, and Brown — who releases his fifth album, “Fortune,” Tuesday — has never sounded the same.

If he evoked a young Romeo on his early records, then the man who boasts, brags and barges his way through “Fortune” is more like a 20-something Lothario, with a dirty mind and an even filthier mouth. Never before has Brown sounded so carelessly graphic, like a high school football quarterback who dates the cheerleading captain and spills her intimate secrets to his teammates in the locker room. Even during its slower moments, “Fortune” can’t seem to rustle up any sincerity, and Brown spends the bulk of his time telling girls to disrobe (“Strip”), dance (“Bassline”) and/or ignore any unsavory stuff they’ve heard about him in the press (“Don’t Judge Me”).

Stylistically, Brown gives a few lazy stirs to the same musical melting pot that Usher cooked up with this year’s “Looking 4 Myself,” an album that blended Eurodance with contemporary pop. “Fortune” goes heavy on the robotic dance beats and light on the melodic stuff, though, and Brown sticks to the middle range of his voice, never really showing off his vocal ability. Only the presence of top-notch producers like Nathan “Danja” Hills can save the album from completely tanking.

It comes mighty close to tanking, though. During “2012,” Brown persuades a girl to go to bed with him in order to avoid the coming apocalypse (sample lyric: “It’s about to be the end of the world, and they depend on us to make earthshaking love”). He pledges his love to another girl during “Stuck on Stupid” by acknowledging, “If you told me to go rock climbing to prove my love to you, you know I would’ve died trying.” He orders his lovers around in virtually every other song, commanding them to do any number of things that are unfit to print, and the closest he ever comes to selflessness is when he sings, “I wanna see you strip, girl — take your time.”

Let’s be totally objective for a second; Brown doesn’t have it easy. His dirty laundry was turned into headline news three years ago, and any album released since that time has had to surmount the bad press generated by his court conviction. “Fortune” doesn’t make a good case for giving him a second chance, though, and some of these tracks may deserve their own felony charges.

Wild Ones

Flo Rida

Poe Boy / Atlantic

★★½

Like an addict who can’t bring himself to kick old habits, Flo Rida keeps returning to the cheap, disposable club music that launched his career. On “Wild Ones,” he raps his way through nine songs dominated by throbbing dance beats and blockbuster choruses, trading originality for another guaranteed payday.

In a genre dominated by egomaniacs like Chris Brown, though, at least this guy doesn’t take himself too seriously. He samples Etta James one minute and Bryan Adams the next, proving that a good pop hook can come from anywhere, and he is smart enough to enlist a cameo from soul singer Sia Furler, who lends some indie cred to what is otherwise a big-budget, blockbuster production.

There are some missteps along the way, including a tired appearance by Jennifer Lopez and a juvenile pun that turns the album’s first song, “Whistle,” into the equivalent of a middle-schooler’s dirty joke. Still, it’s hard to dismiss the glittery rush that occurs every time one of Flo Rida’s verses barrels headfirst into a glitzy, melody-crazed chorus.

Who cares if these throwaway songs will be forgotten by next month? They still sound good today.

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