Posts Tagged ‘solid’

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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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layin’ in the bed bumpin’ Jodeci…

October 6, 2009

… is exactly what I’m doing right now.  (Thankyou Mariah Carey – “The Impossible”, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel) Wrapped up in a daydream, I took half an hour longer to do my veterinary nurse job profile for university because I kept pausing, laying my head on the bed and just dreaming and wishing about things that could never come true.  Inappropriate crushes, unlikely crushes, unrequited crushes.  Following on from my previous post where I was lamenting the fact that all the best, most mature, solid and sexiest guys are straight (and usually a few years older than me), I… am lamenting that very same thing!  So let me regroup a sec and come with a progression.

I think that possibly the most accurate thing I said was wanting someone who feels comfortable in their own skin.  Looking at B’s sudden decision to contact me last weekend, I was talking to Mike about it and he said exactly what I was thinking, “What does he want you to do about it?” And I can’t make somebody feel good about themselves, and I can’t be responsible for healing anyone’s deep-seated personal issues.  If you’re coming to me expecting me to do that for you, then I’m really sorry but I just can’t.  And I won’t – I have my own things to deal with, and I can keep myself together relatively well but I can’t give over that much of myself without my own life just falling apart.  Right now, I need somebody who’s not perfect, but who has it relatively together and can offer me as much as I’m offering them.  That’s the way it is.

I wonder if it is true that “we’re always on the lookout for the next person”.  Right now, I am more or less adamant that I want to get myself sorted and stable with this course and whatever comes afterwards (fingers crossed, a job!).  I want to get a car and I want to move out (it’s come to the point where I sort of dread coming home and whatever mood I might find my parents in – my own place is looming!).  Once I’ve sorted those things, then maybe I will consider really trying for a long-term relationship – until then, if it happens, then great, but I am honestly honestly not looking.  I am flattered if people flirt with me, and I may flirt back for fun, but I’m tired of being dicked around so I’m not looking for anything serious unless it trips over on my doorstep.  Which would be a first.

I just wish that I could have the kind of relationships I have with my friends, both guys and girls.  We can go for drinks and chat for days, we can party, we can hang around one of our places and listen to music and just mess around and be silly. It’s easy.  And I understand that relationships involve a certain amount of effort and compromise and sacrifice – but it shouldn’t feel like hard work constantly, otherwise the rewards of the relationship aren’t enough to make it worthwhile, I don’t believe.  I just want to be with somebody who wants to be with me, who has fun being with me and who makes it easy to be with them.  I mean, good looks and independence and money are all lovely, but if it’s still hard work, I guess I’m getting a little lazy (thanks LeToya).  Just be good to me (thanks again LeToya) and genuine and I’m not that hard to please.  Sometimes I like to go shopping or go out to drink or dance or whatever – I’m 23!  But sometimes just lying together listening to music or watching a film is the most intimate, wonderful thing.  Especially if you have strong arms and nice broad shoulders – I’m not usually someone who admits this (and my height and stature seem to contradict what I’m about to say), but sometimes it’s nice to feel fragile and have somebody scoop you up and make you feel safe.  Just buy some proper R&B CDs – Ginuwine, Jodeci, Usher, Mariah Carey, Dru Hill, Aaliyah are good starters – and put some nice cologne on and invite me over… nothing more, nothing less.  Let’s escape into a private daydream, just for a few hours… and you got me. 😉