Posts Tagged ‘Metro’

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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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another dream.

August 23, 2009

If you know me, you know that I quite often have very strange dreams.  This is the third vivid one I’ve had this week, after one where my French assistant from university, Anna Winterstein, had come to take me to France in her truck with her boyfriend, except we drove through Clifton to get to Moscow, and from Moscow we were going to drive to France in this truck.  Dreams ≠ logic.  And the worst part was that in the dream, Anna Winterstein was a murderer and a child molester, having slept with a 15yo girl in one of her classes (this is clearly taken from an article I’d been reading in the Metro during the day, where a female music teacher had been convicted of the exact same thing); I pleaded with my dad not to send me with her, but he wouldn’t listen!

Then, I had another dream also set in Moscow (added scenes set in St. Petersburg) where me and my father had to pick up all the rubbish off the streets.  I don’t know why I have been so fixated on Russia in my dreams lately, I’m not reading anything to do with Russia, and I haven’t really come into contact with anything Russian over the last few days.  But last night’s dream was not related to Russia, but instead had elements from Italy and Spain, combined with Bristol (of course).

I was at home with Dad and it transpired that I was supposed to be on holiday in Italy somewhere, but we’d come home for a couple of days in the middle of the holiday for a break from the holiday.  However, I was secretly going to sneak away back to Italy.  Me and my friend Tom Main (from school, I haven’t seen him for years) were on the patio outside, and we had to distract our next door neighbour Julie so that I could get inside and pack my suitcase and leave without her seeing.  We looked through the gap in the breeze block (which was in the pattern of a flower) and then we started singing Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” in eerie high squeaky voices.  Sure enough, Julie came out of the house next door and into the garden to investigate.  We crept back inside out house and I went to start packing my things.  Then Tom Main disappeared and my other friend from school Flick Waite (again, not seen or spoken to her in years!) appeared in the front driveway.  She asked me if I was ready to go, and I said I wouldn’t be a minute, just packing my suitcase.  My dad was sat in the lounge and I decided to tell him upfront that I was going, he said “fine, if that was what I wanted to do”.  I went upstairs to my room to pack my things, and I was folding up my blankets from the bed and packing my phone charger and some cds and things, and I remember thinking I had to hurry because otherwise Flick would go without me.  She called my phone after 15 minutes and asked where I was, I said that I would be down in a minute.  I shoved more things into a suitcase and then ran down the stairs and realised I had forgotten to pack any clothes, but then that all the clothes I needed would be back in the wardrobe in Italy.  I went outside to meet Flick, and we got in a taxi and disappeared.

The next thing I remember is being in a car with my dad and Nonna, driving to a Spanish airport (I think it was Spanish because the scenery reminded me of Spain).  We were in a race against time so that we didn’t miss our flight, and also because I had the vague idea another car was chasing us.  My dad was explaining the different routes we could take as he drove, and he said that it was good to go the way we were going because we could drive any direction we liked.  The motorway was gridlocked but then suddenly two parallel tunnels appeared, a round one and a square one.  My dad explained that we were lucky because we could go through either one of them.  We drove into the square tunnel, and it turned into a computer game where we had to navigate twists and chicanes and avoid crashing into the walls.  The tunnel underground was made of beige square paving slabs.  Occasionally, there would be a car (it was like a sporty sleek red stock racing car) moving slowly towards us, but we would drive around it and eventually we made it out of the tunnel and to the airport, which was on a boat (!) in a harbour.  We got out of the car, and ran onto the boat and looked around duty free (there was an M&S) while we waited for the plane.

Then I don’t know what happened to the airport but I was at my godmother Margaret’s house, and she was looking through old photos which were up on a big slide projector on the wall.  I don’t know why, but she started laughing and joking about something, and I thought it was at me.  She told me not to be so silly, but I was convinced that she thought I was stupid for some reason in the photo, so I started sulking and eventually I went home.  Mum and Dad were at home, and I sat at the table with Mum, where we had a brief conversation.  Mum asked me if I remembered the Christmas where we both went shopping and bought Mariah Carey perfume.  I said yes, but then I hid my wrist under the table because I was wearing a different perfume and I didn’t want her to know.  So I changed the subject and told them about Margaret making fun of me and how upset I was, because I felt that she wasn’t respecting me as an adult.  Dad was sat in his chair watching tv, and told me not to be so stupid, and that older relatives are allowed to tease you when they want.  Mum told me to ignore him and said she understood how I felt, and not to take it personally because there was nothing wrong with me and I did not overreact.  I walked up to Dad in his armchair and I realised that his arm and his foot were deformed, like a thalidomide baby.  He looked quite grumpy and tried to get me and mum to shut up so he could watch his programme on tv.  I woke up a couple of times, drifted off, reminisced about parts of the dream and tried to make sure i would remember it when I finally woke up properly.

If anyone can shed any light on what any of this dream might mean, go for it!  Because honestly, I have no idea 😉