Even if Chris Brown had never raised a hand to his ex-girlfriend Rihanna, "Graffiti" (Jive) would have been a letdown. No sweet ballads like "With You," no sleek dance pop like "Forever," only the possible hit "I Can Transform Ya," which banks on an already-tired link to the "Transformers" movie franchise and a halfhearted cameo from Lil Wayne.

Even if he had not pleaded guilty to felony assault for brutally beating Rihanna and had simply broken up with her, his dance number "Famous Girl" would be petty at best. He threatens "rumors coming" and alludes to what she keeps "in shadow," while spreading gossip about her. And in case we didn't know who he was talking about, he adds, "I was wrong for writing 'Disturbia.' " Trying to camouflage it all with references to other singers and their songs simply makes it all the more childish.

Even if he had not shamelessly timed the rollout of "Graffiti" with the release of Rihanna's "Rated R" to grab some of her attention, his self-pitying, sarcastic epic ballad "Lucky Me" - where he boasts "Whatever money can buy, I probably got it" and then complains, "Lucky me, I gotta pose for the cameras even when my world's falling down" - would have still been cringe-inducing.

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After all, if Brown had all that cash, he could simply have taken the time and energy to make "Graffiti" a better album. He could have been a gentleman and taken the high road about the breakup. Then again, we all know a gentleman would never hit a lady.

CHRIS BROWN

Graffiti

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GRADE C-

BOTTOM LINE Desperately sweet nothings to save a career