When future scholars get around to writing the cultural history of dubstep (with, I’d imagine, equal parts curiosity and confusion) I hope Chris Brown’s Fortune will be pointed to as one of the best examples of the dance-centric genre’s ability to successfully crossbreed with radio pop. Even more willing than his peers to take R&B into the club, Chris Brown frontloads Fortune with several prime examples of his talent for riding the edge of cultural waves. However, in its attempts to form a broad appeal, the album calls into question whether Brown has any innovations of his own to offer.
In addition to dubstep’s punishing bass, Fortune borrows from Wiz Khalifa’s skin-deep party lionization (going so far as to truck in the genuine article for “Till I Die”) and the slight, South American dance flourishes exemplified by Kanye West’s latest projects (see: “Strip,” “Trumpet Lights”).
The unfortunate upshot of this dedicated, stylistic trainspotting is that Chris Brown winds up forming the least-interesting constituent of his own album.
When Fortune’s production works, as it does roughly one-third of the time, the album elicits from Brown some of his finest work. Brown’s silken tenor forms a sensible counterpoint to “Turn Up the Music”’s aggravating club electronics and “Bassline” affords him a chance to do some rap-singing—a discipline at which he proves an admirable practitioner.
The problems emerge when Fortune’s production veers south of its punishing club bangers and dubstep mutations. Having expended the entirety of its creative ambition on its first four tracks, Fortune meanders through its remaining 10 in a phlegmatic daze. Somewhere between the overburdened metaphors of “2012” and the meandering balladry of “Stuck On Stupid,” it becomes clear that Chris Brown (or, rather, Chris Brown’s 24-member production army) has consented to work with an at-best duo-chrome thematic pallet.
Crooning lasciviousness has doubtlessly paid the mortgage on however many houses Chris Brown owns, and on Fortune that theme makes valiant return, populating tracks with such choice lines as, “You’re telling me to go harder, go harder / You’re telling me to go deeper, go deeper / I feel your knees getting weaker” (“2012”).
Even Brown’s plaintive tenor, ever an object of sexual fetish, fails to imbue that line with enough sensuality to rescue it from its own ridiculousness. With the exception of enthusiastic partying, slow, sweaty lovemaking forms the entirety of Fortune’s lyrical provenance and Brown fails to approach that theme with anything resembling fresh investigation.
In addition to serving as a Platonic example of pop and dubstep’s crosspollination, Fortune also provides a degree of academic interest owing to how thoroughly it feels like an album accomplished by committee. Chris Brown has talent (obviously), but we may never know whether or not that talent includes enough creative energy to escape its essential reliance on whichever style happens to rule the day.