The Next Step

Parody may be an even more sincere form of flattery than imitation, and James Brown has received more such homage than any singer this side of Elvis. But such flattery takes its toll — now, each trademarked grunt, bark and wail Brown emits competes not only with the power of his classic tracks but also with Eddie Murphy in the hot tub and Mystikal shaking yo' ass. So if the James Brown of The Next Step sounds hungry and fierce, maybe it's because the Godfather understands that he's in a desperate race against self-parody. The music is taut and trim — Brown's sidemen are allowed no improvisational flights, and only one track breaks the five-minute mark. The lyrics are more scattershot. "Killing Is Out, School Is In" seems to imply that wearing baseball caps backward causes teen aggression. But even here, when Brown trades full-throated shouts with Bobby Byrd again, we're reminded that no one does James Brown better than the man himself.