The stunning Toni Braxton is back but the R&B landscape is a very different place to where she left it in 2005. The likes of Beyonce are still at the forefront of the genre, which is perhaps why singles such as Yesterday sound so reminiscent of Beyonce’s Halo, I was surprised to find that they were not credited with the same songwriters or producers.
However, the lyrical content suggests that Braxton is not merely jumping on the bandwagon and lyrics referring to the end of a relationship hint at her recent separation from Keri Lewis of the group Mint Condition.
We have come to expect romantic ballads from Braxton yet her contralto voice equally deserves its place on the more up-tempo dance-based offerings such as the vibrant Make My Heart and Wardrobe.
Braxton has always been more than the balladeer that she emerged as in 1991 – typecast with hits such as Un-Break My Heart, she ruffled feathers when she released singles such as You’re Makin’ Me High, He Wasn’t Man Enough and Hit The Freeway.
But her dulcet yet husky tone affords her versatility. Braxton, who has acted on stage and screen and recently competed in Dancing with the Stars, has attracted some criticism for her latest hair cut which sees one side of her head shaven. Again she faces the charge of jumping on the bandwagon following the likes of Cassie and Mel B. ‘Is it the way I wear my hair, tell me the truth boy I don’t care’, is a telling lyric from one of the stronger ballads Why Won’t You love Me.
Perhaps she feels some pressure to fit in with her younger peers or maybe it was symbolic a reflection of changes in her personal life, but conjecture aside, what is clear is that Braxton’s talent has not gone out of fashion.
Hands Tied and Hero are two of my standout tracks, while the Delta Goodram cover Woman reveals the quieter introspection of maturing which an artist such as Mary J Blige has delivered more earnestly on her last two albums.
It’s intriguing that though her voice deserves the accolade, Braxton has often missed out on being ranked as a diva (in the good sense) yet after 19 years in the business she has seemingly had no mid-life meltdown.
Not that she hasn’t faced her share of problems including poor sales of her last album Libra which she has attributed to poor promotion and a dispute with her previous record label Blackground, as well has health problems including being diagnosed with Angina and dealing with her son’s autism.
For classic Braxton, she would need to reunite with Babyface who produced hits such as Breathe Again and Love Should Have Brought You Home. Her acrimonious split from Arista Records means that this is unlikely.
It’s hard to live up to the type of success which she garnered so early, but Braxton has earned her right to handpick the talent for her album and she personally chose to collaborate with new and established producers and songwriters including Steve Mac (Leona Lewis, Il Divo), Chuck Harmony (Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Chrisette Michelle), Simon Franglen (Celine Dion, Leona Lewis) and David Foster (Whitney Houston and Barbra Streisand).
The diversity in this line up points to Braxton’s flexibility as an artist – a trait she has long displayed. There are few duets on the album but remixes saw collaborations with Trey Songz (who set her pulse racing with a steamy kiss at the 2009 Soul Train Awards.
Digital leaks threatened the album and collaborations with Robin Thicke, Sean Paul and Usher did not materialize. But thankfully bonus content is available including Caught (Don’t Take Your Hat Off) featuring Mo’Nique who appears in the middle of the song with a dramatic monologue.
Braxton has always worn her heart on her sleeve and the aptly titled Pulse does not deviate from the romantic script. Braxton’s career shows no signs of flat lining. If people can stop trying to put artists such as her into a box, Braxton should continue not to miss a beat in making fans fall in love all over again.
Pulse is out now on Atlantic records
For more information on Toni Braxton visit: www.tonibraxton.com
© Fiona McKinson