Don’t Be Cruel – Bobby Brown (1988)

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“Don’t Be Cruel” is the second studio album released by Boston born American singer Bobby Brown.

The album follows the genre of New Jack Swing and R&B with odes to many of the classic soulful sounds but it remains innovative and a sound which would influence many up coming R&B acts over the next 20 years.

Bobby Brown would have himself down as the original R&B bad boy and this is reflected in some of the lyrics we see on this set.

What this album does to me is bridge the gap between the rising wave of Hip Hop and Soul music. With soul music at the end of the 80’s no longer appealing to the younger generation and the excitement of street music in Hip Hop “Don’t Me Cruel” offers an alternative.

The album was written and produced mainly by the team of Babyface and LA Reid who would have a hand in many of the R&B artists of the time.

The album kicks off with the title track “Don’t Be Cruel”. This song was a massive hit and it’s a really great track. It’s certainly one which has stood the test of time and like many songs on this set you can see that many of the new generation of R&B owe just as much to Bobby Brown as they do to Michael Jackson.

“Don’t Be Cruel” lyrically is about being in love with someone and treating them well when getting very little in the way of reciprocation. Whilst the songs sentiment is perhaps a little fluffy, there is an edge to the production and the vocal from Brown especially when he goes into a rap. With the contrast of the almost fragile and sweet voice Brown uses on the verses makes the song rich sounding and has more included that your average R&B tune.

“My Prerogative” is the quintessential Bobby Brown song. It’s big, bold and full of arrogance. The song addresses the world to basically say he does things they way he wants and when he wants to do them and simply that is his prerogative.

They say I’m crazy
I really don’t care
That’s my prerogative
They say I’m nasty
But I don’t give a damn
Gettin girls is how I live

“Roni” is my favourite song on this album and without a doubt my favourite Bobby Brown song of all time. The song is structured in a way that just presses all the right buttons in my brain and I thoroughly enjoy bellowing the words out whenever I hear it.

The song is almost sickly sweet and at points they seemed at a loss for lyrics and simply used something a little soppy but regardless the truth about Roni is all here and the way the song breaks down into the spoken word final verse then steps into an almost anthem like same lyric finale is perfect. How can you not like this song?!

“Rock Wit Ya” gives “Roni” a run for its money in my favourite Bobby Brown stakes. This is what I have as a definitive song of the time and certainly one of the most important songs in New Jack Swing history. This was embodiment of a movement – it’s soul music but not in that classic way but in a new sexy soulful easy to listen to way.

This of course was the trademark of Babyface and LA Reid’s production and writing sound which is a formula they used many times after. It’s very simple production with the drum machine driving the track through and the vocal from Bobby Brown doing all the world.

Brown’s voice is at its best here. He doesn’t stretch the vocal as he probably doesn’t have the range but regardless the way he sings gives the song something different. It’s sweet and almost child like but the lyrics and delivery of certain phrases change the mood and atmosphere to an adult themed R&B extravaganza.

“Every Little Step” is the most pop orientated song on the album. It’s got a simple musical structure and the verse seems to have Brown’s voice filtered to make it sound a little too digital for my liking. But the song does have a strong hook and clearly was created to be a crossover hit which it duly was.

The more upbeat pop crossover theme continues on the next track “I’ll Be Good To You”. Whilst the song is upbeat and certainly one of the more danceable the lyrics are the tired old story of being good to someone and the song never really goes anywhere. I do appreciated the funky bassline which is prominent throughout the track.

With a title such as “Take It Slow” you would expect to have a more sultry sexy vibe and that is exactly what this track offers. But it only offers it musically as Brown’s voice does not suit this style at all. This song requires a richer voice with a little more range. So far Brown has avoided this and done it very well but this track doesn’t work for me at all as Brown sounds way to child like and out of his vocal depth.

“All Day All Night” keeps that late night sexy sound but some of the production is far too computerised for my liking. It sounds as if the Casio keyboard has been dusted off and put on demo. Despite the basic and slightly annoying production the song has more of a in sync feel with Bobby Brown as a character who displays this confident boyish charm.

“I Really Love You Girl” is the most 80’s sounding song on the album due to it’s production. Sadly the album in the second half seemed to lose it’s clever sound in terms of musicanship which had been simple but effective. This song has a soppy sentiment that Brown displayed on his first album and any hint of his bad boy persona seems to evaded him on this one.

Dreams were made for those who sleep
dreams are made for those who weep
and you and me we belong together baby huh
and i just want you to be the only one in my life
don’t leave me all alone

 

“Don’t Be Cruel” has some really top tracks and these songs changed the way contemporary R&B presented itself. I would say the albums greatest strength is the way the songs mix the old style soul music with a more street sound and Bobby Brown as a character is the perfect vehicle for such movement.

“Roni” and “Rock Wit Ya” are fantastic tracks that I would listen to any time, in any situation and turn the album into something a little more special.

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