Since Bobby Brown titled his fifth studio album The Masterpiece, and since he's previously said this is the best work of his career, you'd expect it to be a pretty good comeback for him, at the very least. But unfortunately the album -- which was released June 5, 2012 and is his first studio release since 1997's Forever -- not only doesn't live up to its name or the hype, it's one of the most poorly sung R&B releases of the year. And that's a shame, because his producers give him some pretty good melodies to work with; it's just that Bob's voice obviously isn't up to carrying a full load at this stage of his career.
The track on Bobby Brown's The Masterpiece that gained the most attention in the weeks and days leading up to the album's release is "Don't Let Me Die," a dramatic tale about a man who's pleading for his woman to come back to him. Despite media reports that the song was inspired by Bobby's ex-wife, the late, great Whitney Houston, who died less than four months before the album's release, Bobby himself has confirmed that the song's actually about his manager/fiancee, Alicia Etheridge and was written several months before Whitney's death. Well, whoever it's about, it's not particularly good. The lyrics are melodramatic, but conversely, the vocals are flat as a board. Bob sounds a lot more lively on the following song, "Doesn't Anybody Know," but that doesn't make it any better of a listen. On the song, which also features Bob's New Edition running mate, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby growls his way through mildly profane, self-pitying lyrics about how nobody can understand what he's been through in life. Unfortunately, despite the obvious chip on his shoulder, the song doesn't manage to generate much heat.
A lack of hot songs plagues The Masterpiece throughout the album, all the way from the third song, the music industry critique "Get Out the Way" to the last track, the Country-flavored, semi-inspirational "Man I Want to Be." There's a few good moments in between, most of them thanks to the album's solid, up-to-date production. Of the good vocal moments here, almost none come from Bobby himself; instead, it's tongue-twisting rapper Jayre (on "Starmaker") who gives the best performance, followed by, interestingly enough, Johnny Gill, the man who once replaced Bob in the former boy band New Edition after Bobby left for a solo career. Johnny's vocals on the melancholy "All is Fair," which is one the album's better songs, manages to counterbalance Bobby's occasionally off-key warbling for long enough to make the song worth listening to. When it comes to two of the three things needed for an album to be worthwhile -- lyrics and production -- The Masterpiece passes. But unfortunately it's the third element, vocals, that drags this release down to the point where's it can be considered one of the worst R&B albums of the year.