In the upcoming film This Christmas, Chris Brown plays a shy teen scared to tell Mama he wants to wail. During a cheesy-sweet scene, he croons a refreshingly spare rendition of ”Try a Little Tenderness.” Unfortunately, there’s no such barebones balladry on the 18-year-old’s second disc, Exclusive. Instead, he follows up his ringtone-ready, 2005 debut by relying on more hitmakers, all with their own approach to rowdy R&B.
Like his onscreen character, Brown is most charming when he’s playing up his youth: singing of MySpace romance, meeting his girl’s ”pops,” and such. On ”Hold Up,” an odd but pleasing mix of muted chiming and sawtooth bass, he assures a potential sweetheart, ”I ain’t trying to put no pimpin’ in it.” But like any teen, he also likes to test his boundaries, and on the Jazze Pha-produced standout ”Gimme Whatcha Got,” he tries his hand at some PG-13 freakiness. ”That’s it, baby girl, put it on my zipper,” he quips over fluttery, buoyant synths. ”We ain’t in the club, but I still want to tip her.”
Sadly, Brown’s adolescent voice and playful scatting — while cute — are steamrolled by pushy collaborators, whether it’s those Stargate guys (Ne-Yo, Rihanna) falling back on that ol’ guitar noodling, or T-Pain milking his vocoder. Ease back, people, and let the boy sing.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear ”Hold Up” at mtv.com