Here’s another in our continuing series of reviews from the pages of our former cyber home, buhdge. Chris Brown’s Now that You’re Fed was the happiest of surprises when it was released in 2006. A masterful soft pop album with gorgeous melodies and harmony vocal stacks that soared higher than high, its songs became staples of the weekly Pure Pop radio shows of the period and are still played on Pure Pop Radio today.
Chris Brown | Now that You’re Fed | (Self-released) (2006)
I’m pretty sure this is the earliest in a year that I’ve pegged the best-of race’s thoroughbred, but I’m confident in giving this year’s major domo nod to Chris Brown’s Now That You’re Fed, as good a soft-pop album as has come down the pike in eons. It may be only February, but I’m urging you to lay odds on this independent filmmaker’s debut foray into the solo music universe. Yes, it’s that good and, what’s more, it’s even better than that.
How much better? Brown has won awards for the work he produces during his day job. I can only assume he applies the same insane level of craft to his songs as he does to the stories he lenses and shows at various film festivals, so accomplished is his work.
Brown brings the whole package to the table: incredibly rich, harmony-drenched songs with a world-class poet’s attention to wordplay, textured with just the right amount of instrumentation and the sensitive touch of a vocalist floating butter-light and rich emotion within a hair’s breath of every note. Working with ex-Jellyfish bassist Chris Manning, who co-produced with Brown and also mixed these songs, the singer, the songwriter, the player and, yes, the visionary commingle to grand effect. You’ll hear allusions to Michael Penn, Elliot Smith and others, but make no mistake: Brown is his own man.
A great, perceptive artist is able to synthesize elements of his influences into his music while still remaining true to his own, singular voice, and Brown is no exception. There’s a hint of Beach Boys in the background vocal arrangement of the majestic “I Won’t Ask Why,” of California pop in the opening, folk-pop-influenced “Right On Time,” and of sixties harmony kings the Association in the richly-choralized love song “Waiting for Caroline.”
The secret to Brown’s abilities lies within the brief, quirky “Tummy Ache,” its gorgeous melody rightly sung solo, eschewing any window dressing as it spins the tale of a lover who can attend to the simplest of things–a “pillow for your feet/A glass of water for the table”–but can’t step up to the plate on an emotional platform (“I can’t help you when you wake/I can’t even stop your tummy ache”). Brown’s skill is his way of making his music and lyrics intertwine, work as one, on the same level, and this song is a perfect example of the heights he can and does achieve.
Even better, though, is the aforementioned “I Won’t Ask Why,” a brilliant, beautifully built song about keeping one’s distance in a relationship that’s bound by duality. What separates a united heart? Is there ever a place to hide where you won’t be found, rubbed the wrong way, pushed and pulled apart? Brown constructs vivid images to muddy the waters and question where the listener’s sensibilities may lie. My favorite: “The men from People magazine/Came out to photograph the teen/In her Italian limousine/Exchanging vows with Augustine/They came to wipe her conscience clean/With Ivory soap and gasoline.”
The moral of the story? Nothing will truly clean true emotions; nothing can strip truth from an emotional veneer. For his part, the singer is content to step back and not lay his heart on the line: “Visions roll past me as I die/Vacation snapshots past my eye/The day we met down at the Y/You’re silent now, I won’t ask why.” Brown builds to the song’s conclusion repeating the central melody over and over, new thoughts bound to it, exploring more ways out, with an empty din.
Now and then, Brown throws a monkey wrench into the mix, as with the warped cha-cha of “In the Kitchen.” Smack in the middle of the song, he suddenly changes gears with a decidedly-Sugarplastic flourish, which he follows up OMD-meets-Xavier Cougat style, ripping into the sudden accordion cold stop of an ending. The expansively envisioned, practically symphonic pop song “Not Gonna Make It Easy” spins waves of harmonies as it sketches out the steps to never taking the easy way out. Brown’s considerable way with words is particularly evident here, as when the singer notes “My kid’s an individual/I’m only secretarial/Popping corn and waiting for the burial.”
Indeed, Brown’s way with words is quite sound, which helps to separate him from his peers. These days, lyrics are too often tossed off, or simply inconsequential; no such thing going on here. Along with his wonderful melodies and perfectly-chosen words, Brown shows that he is leader of the pack. This stunning debut proves this in a big way. Essential listening, then.
February 20, 2006