After four long months – that’s over nineteen weeks, if you’re counting, or more than a third of a year – I have finally returned home. Just temporarily, for now, you understand: Steve Stevingtons has an important three week “Malcolm in the Middle” conference to attend, so the place is empty. But temporarily or not, here I am. And if I am back at my desk again, you know what that means: it’s time to grit my teeth and endure another dreadful album of unknown provenance. Today, we subject ourselves to Bobby Brown’s 1986 debut album, King of Stage, released when he was just 17.
You’ll know Bobby from songs like “Two Can Play that Game” and from the years of newspaper headlines generated by his mutually destructive marriage to Whitney Houston. But all that would come later. Wikipedia describes his early career by saying “Brown enjoyed commercial and critical success with his second album Don’t Be Cruel (1988)”, which says by omission all you need to know about this one.
The album cover above is bad, but actually – I don’t normally do this, but I think it might be of vital importance this time – the rear is much worse. Oh god. Get a load of this.
So what’s here? Well, a mix of RnB, rap and slow twinkly synthy mush of the kind you only get from the mid-1980s. There is so much saxophone. Bobby (or “B-Brown” as he sometimes calls himself mid-song) does a bit of shouting and a bit of singing and a fair amount of slow, allegedly sensual talking. The singing is crooning of the cringiest kind, but when he starts rapping, the singing doesn’t seem quite so bad.
Let’s see what we’ve got.
|Track||Word 1||Word 2||Word 3||Word 4|
|2. Girl Next Door||Curtain||twitching||perv||anthem|
|3. Baby, I Want to Tell You Something||Beatboxing||his||own||name|
|4. You Ain’t Been Loved Right||Game||show||theme||tune|
|5. King of Stage||Aggressively||tuneless||ego||trip|
|6. Love Obsession||Creepy,||like||80s||Shaggy|
|7. Spending Time||Mellow||RnB||croon||fest|
|9. Your Tender Romance||More||brazen||RnB||ladybothering|
One notable feature of this album is that Bobby Brown wrote almost none of it. He’s just a performer. With the exception of the title track, where he’s listed as one of several writers, every song here is written by someone entirely different, and the only unifying theme is that every single credited songwriter sounds like a tedious middle manager in a sitcom. Listen to the names! Larry White, Melvin Wells, Nathan Leftenant, Michael Lovesmith, Steven Lindly, Allen N. Jones, Robert Brookins and – my favourite – Kirk Crumpler.
The lyrics they turned out are not world beaters. Take these softly-spoken lines, each taken from the sensual instrumental of a song:
- “I need a girlfriend. Won’t you be my girl? This is Bobby talking.”
- “When I make love to you tonight, I ain’t gonna give it no kind of slack.”
- “OK, as to why I am here, I want to talk about it today.”
I was never going to be a fan of mid-80s RnB/hip hop crossover, with its weird mix of slow, mushy ballads and dreadful experiments in early rap. But this is an example of that music that even its fans like to gloss over, and I can see why. It’s not even good mid-80s RnB. It’s musically flat and lyrically tedious.
In summary, my favourite thing was the shout of “hey fellas, gather round!” that started one song, and which was genuinely like something from a Broadway musical. My least favourite thing is that every single song finished and then stuck around for at least an extra two minutes, looping pointlessly through its chorus again, dragging the album out for about 15 minutes longer than it should have. Ugh. What a thing to come home to.