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Review: Chris Brown's new album 'X' rarely makes its marks

Review: Chris Brown's new album 'X' rarely makes its marks

On ego and art

Chris Brown is an artist whose public persona is nearly impossible to separate from his art.

He's an obviously gifted singer, and frequently an even better dancer. His pout and his swagger, when he's performing, is all part of the act. And the act can often be the art. He's also been repeatedly arrested, charged and sentenced for assault; he publicly brawls with other artists; he's proven a hostile and defensive in television appearances and on social media. That recent Billboard interview was insufferable. He can be vile about women, boastful about commercial success and his own materialism.

His success is dependent on inspired live performances, a hit single and the support of his label and guest artists on his records. This need has worked its way into his art, onto his new album "X," though not always in the most explicit, lyrical terms.

"X" was an album that took a year-and-a-half to make, and publicly went through spits and starts. It's biggest rev really began with the success of "Loyal" feat. Tyga and Lil Wayne, a runaway hip-hop smash with a hugely catchy vibe and ugly, misogynistic lyrics that sprinkles drug use on top like the Weeknd showed up for the weekend. It's defensive as hell, too, which makes fans "loyal" to Brown defensive on his behalf. He doesn't even need to answer to its blatant, demeaning themes.

Except that he does anyway.

"If you're only as good as the company you keep / Then I'mma blame you for what they say about me," he warns in the first lines of the titular, opening dance-inspired track. It's a noisy and soaring offering, co-produced by Brown and Diplo. Then, cynically: "I can make you a believer if I turn the nonsense down."

The "company" he keeps on this album, in addition to Diplo? Chart-toppers like Usher, Ariana Grande, Kendrick Lamar, Trey Songz, Jhene Aiko and producer Danja. (Nicki Minaj wastes away on "Love More" from the deluxe bonus version, the same collection of excess tracks where Brown's terrible "Fine China" exists to be burned by a thousand fires.)

Some of these singers, rappers and beat-makers are contemporaries any artist would kill to keep in their cadre. Stylistically, Brown's riding their sonics. This does not make for a cohesive album.

"Songs on 12 Play" is an obvious homage to Kellz, plugging "Ignition" though inviting Songz to guest on vocals. R. Kelly shows up instead on messy pussy ode "Drown In It" which is just as explicit as you imagine. Perfectly innocuous "New Flame" reverses it's simple structure to cater to an Usher cameo and, worse, a dorky Rick Ross verse, promising to do you ladies "right."

Let's pause. I don't think for a single second the cameos from troubled artists like R. Kelly (for his chronicled history of sexual assault of young women), Rick Ross (who has difficulty grasping what sexual assault even is) and Akon (whose rep was partially staked on a fake criminal history) on an album of troubled artist Chris Brown is coincidence. I also think that guest spots from artists like Grande, Aiko, Brandy and Lil Wayne were from artists who wanted or could use the exposure: Grande and Brown were in the lab before "Problem" was even Grande's great career solution. Brandy's rebuilding the Brandy brand, as is loyal Wayne. Aiko is building off her breakout year.

This all returns to that initial assertion, that "guilt/innocence by association" I think its in moments like these that Brown forces an intersection of public face -- ego -- and art.

Perhaps that's why there's "Loyal," and its reheated machismo on "Stereotype." That's why there's the slobbery sex anthems and fluffy suite of "Body Shots" and "Drunk Texting." "X" is 17 songs long, including a throwaway "interlude" ("101"), performed in a lot of different styles and hardly a single one of them focus on the "personal" Brown, about forgiveness or debt, prison or rehab, girlfriends or exes, or growth.

Brown and his company think it's time you forget the ego: he wants a hit, whether descriptive, debaucherous or offensive. As long as it stays impersonal.

Reeling "Autumn Leaves" and "Do Better" do alright; "X" really is a wind-up toy that will get you ready for a game better than this. "Time for Love" and "Add Me In" are also highlights, with some vocal takes that actually sound inspired.

Overall, though, a prioritization of style over substance may explain why "X" just feels like R&B spit-balling, sounding like "now," not "for always," and zero fun at all. To quote another lyric from "X," "I swear to God I'm moving on": Brown breezily flitting between villainous provocateur to lover-man to pimp to The Good Guy -- the "moving on" -- is maybe what's holding him back.

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NBC remaking 'Problem Child' as a sitcom
Credit: Imagine Entertainment

NBC remaking 'Problem Child' as a sitcom

NBC remaking “Problem Child” as a sitcom
The 1990 John Ritter film has already spawned two sequels and an animated series on USA.


“Nurse Jackie” adds Mark Feuerstein to its final season
The “Royal Pains” star will play a lawyer who represents Jackie in her wrongful termination suit.


Spike TV buys Gary Oldman’s Silk Road online marketplace-inspired drama
Oldman is producing “Deep Web,” about a place in the internet underworld where you can buy anything, from a kidney to a rocket launcher.


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Xosha Roquemore and Beth Grant discuss their wacky 'Mindy Project' characters

Xosha Roquemore and Beth Grant discuss their wacky 'Mindy Project' characters

Who has the crazier backstory - Beverly or Tamra?

On "The Mindy Project," we rarely get to spend time with Xosha Roquemore's Tamra or Beth Grant's Beverly outside of the office. 

Sure, we know details about Tamra's romance with Ray Ron, as well as her new fling with Morgan.

And yes, we know about Beverly's firing and subsequent rehiring, as well as off-hours activities including attendance at executions.

But can we truly say that we know Tamra or Beverly?

Get ready to finally get some insight into both characters.

Last week, I sat down with Roquemore and Grant and learned a few things about what makes Tamra a surprisingly good nurse and why Beverly hasn't exactly become an exemplary worker since returning to the job. 

The two actresses discuss the crafting of their characters' backstories and the little things that they've learned from lines that maybe didn't make it into episodes.

Check out the full interview above.

"The Mindy Project" returns to FOX on Tuesday, September 16 at 9:30 p.m.

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'Hector' stars Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike on how the English are scared of sincerity
Credit: HitFix

'Hector' stars Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike on how the English are scared of sincerity

Plus we get into the way this film and 'The World's End' are entangled

There are a few people on a very short list who are a genuine pleasure to run into under any circumstances, and Simon Pegg is on that very short list for me.

We first met during the build-up to the American release of "Shaun Of The Dead," and at that point, Pegg and Nick Frost and Edgar Wright were cult stars thanks to "Spaced." As much as I adored "Shaun" straightaway, I had no idea if it was going to make a dent in American pop culture.

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<p>Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler in Friday Night Lights</p>

Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler in Friday Night Lights

Credit: NBC

Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, episode 246

Dan and Alan also wrap up their 'Friday Night Lights' season 2 discussion

The

Happy Tuesday, boys and girls! Time for the first of a two-podcast week for the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast. Since there are so many shows debuting this weekend and early next week, we decided to deal with this week's early premieres while wrapping up our "Friday Night Lights" season 2 discussion today — with an epic hour discussion of the final two episodes and an attempt to rank the worst characters and ideas of the season — and we'll be back on Thursday or Friday to talk about "Madam Secretary," "Gotham" and a bunch of other new and returning shows.

NOTE: Due to lots of recent problems with the Skype connection, we tried a new method of recording the show this week. As with all things technical, there will be a learning curve, and it may not sound perfect all the time. But we continue to try things!

The rundown:

"Red Band Society" (00:01:00 - 00:11:50)
"Mysteries of Laura" (00:11:50 - 00:22:45)
"Friday Night Lights" Summer ReWatch (00:22:50 - 01:22:05)

As always, send questions to firewalliceberg@hitfix.com. You can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. Or you can always follow our RSS Feed, download the MP3 file, subscribe on IHeartRadio or stream it on Dan's blog.

There's also now a complete archive of all the podcasts to date.

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Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 246

Dan and Alan review 'Red Band Society' and 'Mysteries of Laura' and complete the Summer ReWatch

The

Happy Tuesday, Boys & Girls!

It's time for the first of what we expect will be two installments of The Firewall & Iceberg podcast this week.

We'll have an installment at the end of the week with a LOT of new show reviews, because otherwise next week will be utterly untenable. This podcast, though, only has reviews for FOX's "Red Band Society" and "Mysteries of Laura."

And then, we wrap up this summer's Podcast Rewatch, "Friday Night Lights" Season 2. We talk about the last two episodes of the season and then we have a lot of fun debating and ranking the worst characters and plotlines. I think it's a great wrap-up to a Summer ReWatch I quite enjoyed doing and we hope you did, too!

Today's Breakdown:
"Red Band Society" (00:01:00 - 00:11:50)
"Mysteries of Laura" (00:11:50 - 00:22:45)
"Friday Night Lights" Summer ReWatch (00:22:50 - 01:22:05)

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. [Or you can always follow our RSS Feed or subscribe on IHeartRadio.] 

 

And as always, feel free to e-mail us questions for the podcast.

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'Equalizer's' Denzel Washington won't wait another 12 years to work with Antoine Fuqua again

'Equalizer's' Denzel Washington won't wait another 12 years to work with Antoine Fuqua again

What's the word on Chloe Grace Moretz?

TORONTO - When an actor wins an Academy Award he or she usually tries to work with the director who helped guide them to the top of the mountain again.  Often, it has great results.  After winning a best supporting Oscar for "Terms of Endearment" Jack Nicholson reunited with James L. Brooks on "As Good As It Gets" and won best actor.  Jennifer Lawrence immediately worked with her "Silver Linings Playbook" maestro, David O. Russell, on "American Hustle" which resulted in back to back nominations.  Diane Weist won her first Oscar for Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" and her second for his comedy "Bullets Over Broadway."  That's just one reason it's somewhat surprising the prolific Denzel Washington took 12 years to reunite with his "Training Day" director, Antoine Fuqua for "The Equalizer."

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Rosie O’Donnell helps 'The View' deliver its best season premiere ratings in 8 years
Credit: ABC

Rosie O’Donnell helps 'The View' deliver its best season premiere ratings in 8 years

Rosie O’Donnell helps “The View” deliver its best season premiere ratings in 8 years
Monday’s show was the 2nd-largest season premiere in show history, and its best since Rosie first joined “The View” in 2006.


NFL reportedly asked Rihanna to pay to play Super Bowl halftime — does the offer still stand after her F-word tweet?
According to TMZ, Rihanna was ticked off at the NFL and CBS to learn she was associated with CBS’ “Thursday Night Football” — and scapegoated when they pulled her song. (CBS acutally paid to license Jay-Z’s song featuring Rihanna). Now that she has a beef with CBS and the NFL, is there any chance of her paying to play Super Bowl halftime?


Study: Fewer women are working in primetime TV
As Deadline notes, a study found that "women comprised 27% of all people working as creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography – a decrease of 3.5% from the previous season."


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A creepy Meryl Streep invites you 'Into the Woods' in new poster

A creepy Meryl Streep invites you 'Into the Woods' in new poster

Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp also star in Sondheim adaptation

Disney's upcoming musical "Into the Woods" boasts an all-star cast, but Oscar-magnet Meryl Streep takes center stage in a new poster for the film, inviting viewers to take a trip into those dark, spooky, wonderful woods.

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Fury Tiger 1 Tank

Meet the only 'Fury' star bigger than Brad Pitt: the Tiger I tank

Learn more about the 1943 war machine director David Ayer recruited for his villain vehicle.

Writer-director David Ayer is all about in-your-face verisimilitude. For 2005's "Harsh Times," he relayed his South Central childhood directly to screen. With 2012's "End of Watch," he flocked to those same streets for a found footage exercise. And despite it's World War II setting, Ayer's ambition for raw intensity should keep his latest film, "Fury," squarely in the real. Not every director would pull strings to get an actual 1943 tank out on his recreated battlefield.

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Daniel Radcliffe, Brie Larson, Ben Kingsley
Credit: Cinedigm/CBS Films/Paramount Pictures

Brie Larson and Ben Kingsley up the pedigree of Daniel Radcliffe-led 'Brooklyn Bridge'

A drama surrounding New York City's suspension landmark sets off awards alarms.

Daniel Radcliffe will win an Oscar, eventually. He's driven, he's eclectic, he's riding Leonardo DiCaprio-esque blockbuster momentum that he's happy to cash in for provocative material, and, most importantly, he's good. And getting better. Holding his own against Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Ralph Fiennes for a decade certainly helped.

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Virginia Madsen AMPAS Network Video
Credit: AMPAS

Oscar-nominee Virginia Madsen is mad as hell when it comes to 'Network,' film, and culture

The 'Sideways' star digs through Academy Film Archive to unearth a personal favorite.

Actress Virginia Madsen worries that we aren't doing "Network" justice. "It's one of those great films that isn't seen enough, isn't talked about enough," she admits in the latest installment of "Let's Go to the Movies," the Academy's wish fulfillment video series. When invited to pluck a print from the Academy archive to take in on the big screen, Madsen went straight for Sidney Lumet's 1976 TV news satire, a remnant of a bygone era when movies were political, dangerous, and as prickly as their film grain.

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