A few weeks back, I was writing my review for Maroon 5′s Overexposed while talking to my partner. I mentioned that the album had a few decent songs, which she didn’t believe. It sparked a discussion between us where I theorized that, no matter how bad things get, no artist (or album) truly bats .000.
The thought feels like famous last words going into Fortune.
Naming the album Fortune as a play on Brown’s previous outing F.A.M.E. (this pretense of theme is one of the more creative aspects of this record) is gimmicky, but gets the point across rather nicely: Fortune is a direct follow-up to that Grammy winning record. And while the runaway success of that record was surprising, seeing Fortune get any real success of its own is even more baffling.
Once again, Brown blends pop, hip/hop, dance, and R&B in a way more boring than any of those genres deserve. “Turn Up the Music” and “Don’t Wake Me Up” are the album’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 of Trend Chasing Pop Singles, but they’re both C-level pop songs; neither one can even muster the cheap thrill of a by numbers jam like “Yeah X3″. ”Till I Die” (feat. Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa) and “Mirage” (feat. Nas) make for a pair of passable tunes, mostly off the strength of each one’s beat.
And were it not for some occasionally decent production work, Fortune would be a complete misfire. “Till I Die” has a laid back beat that switches between synths and a drum break. “Mirage”, meanwhile has a demented groove and features a choir, of all things. “Sweet Love” stands out as being extra pretty and expansive in the album’s too samey sounding middle section. Overall, Fortune favors slightly echoing, reverb friendly production style that’s nice to hear, but seldom makes for compelling listening.
Despite being loud off-record, most of Brown’s personality evaporates once he enters the recording booth. Then again, songs like “Bassline” remind us that maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. “I’m winning, you heard about my image/But I couldn’t give a flying motherfuck about my image” he boasts on the album’s unquestionable lowpoint. Between the shallow imitation of dubstep for a beat, a hook consisting of “Girls like my bassline, girls like my bassline, shake it to my
phallic metaphor bassline”, and Brown’s complete inability to rap, “Bassline” borders unlistenable.
In a way, “unlistenable” describes most of the record, although not in the way you’d expect. Even if it isn’t exactly good, the first four songs (“Turn Up the Music”, “Bassline”, “Til I Die”, and “Mirage”) at least leave an impact. Around the point of “Don’t Judge Me” and ending some eight songs later (over half the album), Fortune hits a dearth of interesting songs. Again, the production’s not bad per se, but the ballads “Don’t Judge Me”, “Sweet Love”, and “4 Years Old” are mawkish at best. “2012″‘s lyrics are almost laughable; the premise of the song is that Brown and his lover need to have some world-saving sex, and the other songs are so embarrassingly forward and uncreative that they could pass for a collection called “Fifty Shades of Brown”.
On top of its other problems, Fortune struggles because Brown is such a blank slate of a performer. He sounds ineffectual instead of tough or threatening, ham-fisted instead of sincere, and bored instead of inspired. A singer of no significant ability, his vocals are processed on almost every track, and he fades too easily into the background of his own songs. Taken on their own, Brown’s performances on Fortune pass without leaving any impression. Given his personal history and current status, they only become much worse.
I still maintain that no one bats .000, but holy shit do some people get close. Fortune is a mean-spirited, dull, and calculated record that goes in one ear and out the other without leaving any lasting impression. Even as another rank and file pop record, it feels superfluous coming out less than a month after Usher’s Looking 4 Myself. One star out of five.
tl;dr: You’d be more fortunate to skip this one, 1/5 stars.