Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy Ride’

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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Top 20 albums of 2009.

December 25, 2009

Hello everyone, and Merry Christmas!  I have compiled (and it was startlingly easy) my top 20 albums of 2009 (if you know me, you know it’ll be an R&B female-dominated affair as usual!).  Unlike last year, when I listed 10 and did mini reviews, this time I’ve got 20 (since my shortlist came to 20 albums, I thought it would just be easier to rank 11-20, than pick out some for Honourable Mentions).  No mini-reviews, or I would be here forever, and I think my blog posts are long enough without breaking the 5000 word barrier!  So I’ve just put the best and worst tracks from each album with the album cover, and hopefully you’ll be intrigued to download my favourite songs of 2009.  And while you’re at it, you can download my own album, Quiet Storm, here too! So without further ado…

20. Utada HikaruThis Is The One (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Come Back To Me, Apple And Cinnamon, This One (Crying Like A Child), On And On

Skip = Automatic Part II, Poppin’

19. Electrik RedHow To Be A Lady Volume 1

Highlights = Muah, P Is For Power, W.F.Y., Drink In My Cup, Kill Bill

Skip = So Good, Friend Lover, On Point

18. Lady GaGaThe Fame Monster

Highlights = Bad Romance, Alejandro, Monster, Teeth

Skip = Speechless, So Happy I Could Die

17. Joss StoneColour Me Free!

Highlights = Could Have Been You, Stalemate, Girlfriend On Demand

Skip = Incredible, Parallel Lines, Governmentalist

16. Cheryl Cole3 Words

Highlights = 3 Words, Parachute, Heaven, Fight For This Love, Boy Like You

Skip = everything else!

15. Chrisette MicheleEpiphany

Highlights = Blame It On Me, Epiphany (I’m Leaving), Notebook, On My Own

Skip = What You Do, Another One, Mr. Right

14. Nicki Minaj – Beam Me Up Scotty

Highlights = I Get Crazy, Kill Da DJ, Mind On My Money, Keys Under Palm Trees, Beam Me Up Scotty

Skip = Best I Ever Had, Easy

13. MýaBeauty & The Streets Vol. 1

Highlights = About My B.I., Show Me Something, Boss, Club Go Crazy, Work It Out, Black Out

Skip = Go Hard Or Go Home, The Only One, Full Service

12. Robin ThickeSex Therapy

Highlights = Sex Therapy, Meiplé, Shakin’ It For Daddy, Elevatas, Make U Love Me

Skip = Million Dolla Baby, I Got U, Mona Lisa

11. Alicia KeysThe Element Of Freedom (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Doesn’t Mean Anything, Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart, Love Is My Disease, Distance And Time, Empire State Of Mind (Part II)

Skip = Love Is Blind, Wait Til You See My Smile, Like The Sea, This Bed

10. The-DreamLove vs Money

Highlights = My Love, Take U Home 2 My Mama, Fancy, Right Side Of My Brain

Skip = Walkin’ On The Moon, Sweat It Out, Love vs Money, Let Me See The Booty

9. Keri HilsonIn A Perfect World…

Highlights = Turnin’ Me On, Get Your Money Up, Knock You Down, Make Love, Energy, Where Did He Go

Skip = Intuition, Slow Dance, How Does it Feel

8. Black Eyed Peas The E.N.D.

Highlights = Boom Boom Pow, Rock That Body, Imma Be, Electric City, Mare

Skip = Alive, Missing You, Rockin To The Beat

7. ShakiraShe Wolf (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Did It Again, Why Wait, Men In This Town, Mon Amour

Skip = Gypsy, Spy

6. Trey SongzReady

Highlights = I Invented Sex, I Need A Girl, LOL :-), Black Roses, Yo Side Of The Bed

Skip = Jupiter Love, Does He Do It, Be Where You Are

5. AmerieIn Love & War

Highlights = Heard ‘Em All, Higher, Swag Back, Different People, Dear John

Skip = Tell Me You Love Me, Red Eye, Pretty Brown

4. LeToyaLady Love (read my full review here!)

Highlights = She Ain’t Got…, Not Anymore, Good To Me, Regret, I Need A U, Don’t Need You

Skip = Take Away Love, After Party, Tears

3. CiaraFantasy Ride (read my full review here!)

Highlights = High Price, Like A Surgeon, Never Ever, Work, Keep Dancin’ On Me, I Don’t Remember

Skip = Ciara To The Stage, Love Sex Magic, Lover’s Thing

2. RihannaRated R (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Hard, Russian Roulette (check out my single review here!), Fire Bomb, Rude Boy, G4L, The Last Song

Skip = Rockstar 101

1. Mariah CareyMemoirs Of An Imperfect Angel (read my full review here!)

Highlights = H.A.T.E.U., Ribbon, Angels Cry, I Want To Know What Love Is, Candy Bling

Skip = It’s A Wrap