A mere week after writing this dissertation about the current differences between albums and mixtapes, along comes Chris Brown’s Heartbreak on a Full Moon to further defy these binary categories.
Clocking in at a whopping 45-tracks, it’s billed as a double-album, but that means very little in 2017 since few listeners buy hard CDs nowadays. To make structural sense of so many songs, the dual structure that Brown may have intended to impart needs also to be reflected in the composition of the record. Ty Dolla $ign achieved this quite effectively in his recent Beach House 3, differentiating portions of the album by beginning certain sections with similarly-named songs — all the ones that start with “famous” — each of which introduces ideas developed in the subsequent tracks. Without such markers embedded in the actual art, Brown’s opus feels excessively formless.
His diehards will no doubt welcome such immense output with open ears, but it doesn’t necessarily make for the strongest overall work, one with a unified identity, especially for those of us who appreciate albums as units of artistic expression. The best records are not just random collections of good songs; rather, each track should make sense in itself (thus allowing any to be a single) AND connect to the others so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
I’m well-aware that this may sound pretentious, but on a practical level, this alchemic process can elevate the quality of songs that otherwise wouldn’t leave much of an impression. Such is the case with a lot of Heartbreak on a Full Moon, with most tracks bleeding into the next in a never-ending malaise of contextless-ness. I’m actually a fan of Chris Brown (the artist…not the person, obviously), but listening to him 45 times in a row – which is what he’s implicitly asking us to do here – brings his shortcomings to the fore. He is a (and his team are) talented producer(s), but since his singing/rapping style is rather monotonous, the beats end up sounding too repetitive accompanied by one type of voice. That’s probably why the best songs on the album feature guests; their varied contributions introduce some much-needed diversity to the musical landscape.
Like with Gucci Mane – another overly-prolific artist right now – Brown would’ve benefitted from a bit more discerning curation. Or, he could’ve followed Future’s lead from earlier this year by breaking up the songs into separate albums with starkly different sounds, and then making them available almost simultaneously. Granted, since so many of the songs sound the same, he may have had a hard time figuring out which tracks belong on each record. But maybe even thinking about his art in those terms would’ve made him realize what it lacked.
Rather than an album or a mixtape, Heartbreak on a Full Moon can best be considered basically a long playlist of new music…which is admittedly novel, just not necessarily in a positive way.