The name Bobby Brown didn’t need another mention before you thought of Don’t Be Cruel, so surely the mention of the name as the title of a new album brings hope of that same success. 1992’s Bobby album, released at the top of a new decade and four whole years after 1988, brings us a different type of success, though. Notably not as chart-topping as his 1988 classic, Bobby provides a more intimate third album fit for an obviously older, and therefore sexier Bobby Brown.
By 1992, Bobby Brown’s ditched his last name for his more casual first; the gumby haircut for a low fade; and the new jack swing pants and jackets for no clothes at all. He’s experienced leading the newest, hottest group and going solo from it; he’s produced not one, but two solo albums; he’s taken tours around the world rising to the highest places of superstardom; last, but certainly not least, he’s married to fellow music icon, Whitney Houston. If all of it is true in 1992, especially the engagement and marriage to music’s prime songstress, then Bobby is ready to shed his quest for commercial appeal and instead search for a reality that tells us who he is really is. By 1992, he’s not only a singer and dancer with incomparable range and style, but a 23 year old man behind the music who knows all of that stuff already.
The Bobby album naturally didn’t need all of the so-called commercial packaging. Bobby was prepared to turn in his sound and look from Don’t Be Cruel which featured an overlooked insertion of rap because of the desire for a straight and narrow young crooner. With the sounds of the grooving ‘80s behind and now into the jamming ‘90s, Bobby Brown once again finds himself acting as a blueprint for a new genre, or perhaps, an era. At a time when R&B is still seeking its place amongst pop, rock, and all the other genres, Bobby Brown sticks his head in again with a total R&B, musically-experienced effort on Bobby. The result of which is Bobby Brown turning in his Michael-Prince-James-Sammy-Marvin understudy apparatus for hipper peers in fellow households who dropped albums in the same year and sometimes on the same day that he’s ready to compete and have fun with, like Big Daddy Kane or his former group New Edition who has found a soulful new lead singer. The wishes for this new name and household is a more confident Bobby Brown about his singing ability, his dancing influence, his insertion of rap into R&B, his insertion of R&B into rap and all other genres. The wishes were pretty much anything that would make the still very young, and therefore fresh Bobby Brown stand out amongst the crowd and decide what his own household name means.
Like Don’t Be Cruel, the Bobby album returns to Bobby Brown’s own clique — whom he deems the “BBB Posse” — of songwriters, super producers, background singers, background dancers, friends, and fans eager to help make a new sound for Bobby. But unlike Don’t Be Cruel, the Bobby album knows what to expect out of the industry if he misses a step or likewise if he sings or raps us into a new era. Taking it track by track seems to be the safe route for Bobby’s place in the industry, which the singer and dancer once again excels at out of the gate with lead single and opening track, “Humpin’ Around.”
The song dazzles us an assumably unfaithful boyfriend unabashedly telling his heckling girl that he’s not, as Bobby calls it, “humpin’ around.” From this hip new term, we get a soulful voice atop a bouncing beat, and Bobby is singing and bouncing for six minutes. He convincingly sings, “No matter what they say/No it ain’t that way/Ain’t nobody humpin’ around” and boasts, “I can make you bounce,” surrounded by a number of “Uh’s!” and “Ow’s!” If anybody is humpin’ around, the rather charming and handsome Bobby Brown is convincing enough to figure it out. Featuring rapper Stylz and a rap verse from Bobby in the last minute, the song is a superior collaboration between R&B and hip-hop ringing in Bobby Brown and the 1990s.
You’re as eager as Bobby and his team now to hear the rest of Bobby after “Humpin’ Around,” and it proves to be not all fluff, as the next track, “Two Can Play That Game” is a jam where Bobby is telling a girl “two can play that game.” The song’s gone through several remixes where Bobby’s singing style atop the beat gets more enjoyable each time. To further show how much of a lovable song this is, Bobby appeared in a film of the same name in 2001 about two lovers playing a dirty love game with each other. And he was very funny in it. And I don’t know, I started singing the song after I saw the film.
The next track was released as a single — the third one as a matter of fact — and it sounds like it as the production takes a backseat to “Humpin’ Around,” but stays afloat the tempo like “Two Can Play That Game.” It’s “Get Away,” a song about getting away from all the madness of fame, which by now has become Bobby’s persona. Bobby shouts, “Ain’t nothin’ but the funk, baby” ahead of a George Clinton sample. The funky song offers you something good enough to fit right after the first two tracks, which means it’s good enough to carry us over to another bouncy song.
We get more bounce with a song titled, “Til the End of Time.” The title delivers more than what the actual song or Bobby does. It’s not a slow jam about two lovers lasting forever as desired, but it is Bobby singing along in the same tone. This would’ve been the perfect song to make a superior ballad out of. Luckily, the song is still a nice song because of the overarching theme that “Humpin’ Around” provides. It’s clear by now that Bobby is an uptempo album, so Bobby lending his new sound to an old subject makes it okay.
Bobby picks up with the next track, which is the sensual single, “Good Enough.” The production remains upbeat, the song’s subject is clear, and Bobby’s singing makes the song better than good enough. This sexy song had a video of Brown on an island with a leading lady making an attempt at popularity beyond the album’s leading groove, which later made it a favorite song on tour amongst Brown’s growing fanbase. The nature of the song outlasts its place on the charts, and it’s a hidden gem to have mid-album on any R&B album of the early ‘90s.
“Pretty Little Girl” picks up where “Good Enough” leaves off. ( In my Bobby Brown voice ) Isn’t it obvious? A young and sexy crooner wants a pretty little girl, and of course, she’s going to want him after hearing him sing about it. You can’t help but think of Michael’s “P.Y.T.” on the wordplay. You can’t help but think of Bob Marley. Whatever inspired this song, whatever pretty little girl, perhaps his real life pretty little girl, lights up Bobby and emphasizes the sex appeal on the album.
Sex appeal – either sex or appeal or the phrase altogether – is nothing but a thing on “Lovin’ You Down.” It’s, quite frankly, a song about loving somebody down and taking them higher. The album gets its request for a ballad with this Track 8, and it offers more than that. It’s your request on your favorite R&B station. It’s your request on the playlist during an evening with your lover. It might be your favorite song on the album, but of course, only after “Good Enough” and “Pretty Little Girl.”
Speaking of favorite songs, my actual, real life, honest-to-God favorite song on the album is Track 9, “One More Night.” And it features actual, real life, honest-to-God singing from Bobby during a hook breakdown. “One more…/I said it will be alright/I know…/Just take my hand/I never meant to make you cry, baby/No…” Bobby croons. There’s just something about Bobby Brown saying one more, things will be alright, I know, just take my hand, I never meant to make you cry, baby, and no in one of his best singing voices. It’s about spending one more night. It’s upbeat. It’s Bobby Brown singing. It’s an actual, real life, honest-to-God great song.
There’s just something about the way that Bobby Brown sings. Something about the way he dances. Something about the way he does a lot of things, and there’s something in common on this next track titled “Something In Common,” in which he duets with Whitney. There’s something about the way Whitney sang, and so of course when you combine her voice, “The Voice,” with his, you get this overpowering, empowering song about their love and what they have in common. Making good music is at the top of that list for them both. For this album, Whitney’s duet enhances it. It’s a one-of-a-kind collaboration and simply a lot for the musical and cultural audiences.
After “Something In Common,” the album gets lengthy and it could be because you want to keep Bobby and Whitney on repeat, but just before you do that, there’s just something about the way that Bobby Brown sings once again and it’s apparent on “That’s The Way Love Is.” It’s a benefit and privilege to continue listening, as you do not want to miss out on another track which was a single and had a funky video to it. The song about love especially makes for a listen right after the married couple’s duet. That’s the way love is, indeed.
A horn blows on the next track, and you’re prompted to listen to Bobby sing about a college girl. It seems like a lonely track near the end, but it reaches the ballad requirement for crooners like Bobby Brown, much like “Lovin’ You Down.” At last, the album isn’t the uptempo, dance mix, singer-turned-rapper playlist that you thought all along. It is an R&B-centered album with lots of jams, and ones like this one, especially for the young female fan daring to have one more night, or something in common with Bobby Brown, makes for more than a ballad.
“Somebody take the storm away,” Bobby sings on this next track, and okay, somebody take my favorite album away now, please. Bobby sings — I mean, sangs — “Storm Away,” a song about, as Bobby details at the end of the song: hate, prejudice, heartache, drugs, and politics. If there is a such thing as using art as a way to diffuse socio-political matters, Bobby Brown uses it. For Bobby to lend his voice and time to the dire issues of the world is one thing, but also on a very sensual album under his name where the singer could have been selfish and made a heartthrob-only album is another thing. This artistic freedom works in favor of Bobby whose music anyway is a cross between productive R&B and outright crooning and gyrating.
At last, the music ends just as it began with a beautiful song featuring a beautiful artist, Debra Winans, on “I’m Your Friend.” Brown again expresses his artistic freedom through duet and vocal range. This duet makes you want to replay “Something in Common” and makes you appreciate the album, even back to the duet with rapper Stylz, as a true artistic effort full of natural talent unbothered with the money or glamour of being solo.
By the end of Bobby, it’s like the ending of something else big. The ending of the ‘80s. The ending of the ’90s even if it’s just beginning because Bobby Brown has already taken over. The ending of the world, and you’re sad that it’s over because you simply want more Bobby Brown. And it was then, Bobby Brown’s world. The thrust of ‘90s Bobby Brown is a want and a need, especially after the ’80s thrust of Don’t Be Cruel. You’ll find that Bobby is as comprehensive as his 1988 best-seller, which complicates its stalemate on the charts. It is, track by track, a cohesive piece on its own. You’ll find reviewing Don’t Be Cruel a better, more classic thing, but listening to Bobby — and admiring its black & white cover with a shirtless Brown on it — is a more pleasurable experience. Making music, more specifically an album, is a hard thing to do, yet a thing Bobby Brown makes look easy.
I am taken again to supreme comparisons. Bobby was to Bobby what Dangerous was to Michael, or any later album was to an artist. Bobby stayed above the game, and the artist used only his household name. He sang it to us. Screamed it at us. Wore it on hats. Either way. The only place that we should hear it is in its rightful, royal place of R&B music. A place tailor-made for Bobby Brown.