Brown could fake a lot of things, but he couldn’t fake vulnerability or regret or confusion. He didn’t do weakness or softness. He was James Brown! He was the One, and he always got what he wanted. Unlike other troubled soul-men like Marvin Gaye and Al Green, Brown had no Church in his soul. Sure, he put over some songs like an old-time preacher, but that was projective shtick, just like he borrowed bits of flash from drag queens and tap dancers in the street. He didn’t need God because he worshipped at his own rugged altar. His ego was impregnable. His music doesn’t have the carnal/devotional tension that marks the work of the greatest soul singers, many of whom were made personally unhappy by its grip but found a way to project the spiritual malaise into songs of unearthly bliss and strangeness. What’s missing from Brown’s music is any hint or breath of otherness, sweetness, light. His is a roar of certainty, done deals, and finality.
The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, by R. J. Smith