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Let's say, a work in progress

November 27, 2005|NATALIE NICHOLS

Chris Brown

"Chris Brown" (Jive/Zomba)

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CHRIS BROWN is at that awkward age, as the 16-year-old R&B singer reminds us over and over on his debut album. But what he thinks his problem is -- being viewed as "too young" to take seriously -- isn't really the problem.

It's more that the small-town Virginia-bred vocalist is another half-baked pop star, prematurely pulled out of the pan to capitalize on the craving for fresh urban stud-muffins. These 15 tracks -- including a remix of his hit "Run It!" (featuring Jermaine Dupri and Bow Wow) as well as the single version (with rapper Juelz Santana) -- veer between icky baby-playa come-ons and sweeter soul ballads that, while more palatable, still prove he's tough, with their sorry-we-gotta-break-up sentiments.

Pimp-in-training poses such as "Poppin' " aside, Brown's stance is certainly authentic: Like many teens, he enjoys his youth but impatiently awaits a chance to take the world, or at least a slightly older woman, by storm.

Garnering comparisons to Usher and Michael Jackson, Brown's voice is agreeably smooth and high but not too powerful or memorable. And the lyrics don't match the sophistication of the music, produced by such experienced hands as Scott Storch, which laces electro-hip-hop flourishes, Chinese drums, tinny new-wave keyboards and delicate acoustic guitar licks among a space-conscious framework of propulsive percussion and booming beats. -- NATALIE NICHOLS

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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