Monday, October 22, 2012

Album Review: Brandy - Two Eleven

Two Eleven
Rating: Grrrr

The title of Brandy's sixth studio album Two Eleven refers both to her birthday and also the day that one of Brandy's idol's Whitney Houston passed away, and finds the singer in a more reflective mood. Coming off the relative failure of her last record Human, Brandy veers away from the more edgy material she did with Timbaland, and moves back to more traditionally grounded R&B. Working with a army of producers, including Sean Garrett, Bangladesh, and Rico Love, Brandy mostly eschews fancy production except on a few tracks, preferring to focus more on her voice, which is in fine form here. While there are plenty of different songwriters working with Brandy on these tracks, there is a consistency here that keeps it from feeling like a jumble of different tracks. The songs deal primarily with relationships in various stages, and provide a prism into the mind of a woman figuring out how to deal with those issues. It is both joyous and painful, but a necessary path to take in becoming who she is.

From amazing opening track "Wildest Dreams," Brandy sings confidently about finding love from someone who appreciates her for herself and not for just being "Brandy;"

but on "So Sick" she looks intensely at a bad relationship, knowing it's bad for her but still pulled back in by his charms,

while on tender ballad "No Such Thing As Too Late" her voice cracks and wavers as tries to give her lover a second chance.

Despite the bevy of producers and songwriters on Two Eleven, it is a surprisingly sonic and lyrically consistent record, only faltering in a couple of places. First single "Put It Down," a collaboration with the inexorably horrid Chris Brown, is by far the least successful song, featuring an oddly sampled vocal rip from Brown and a mid-track rap that is just pointless. If it was some record label enforced attempt at pop crossover after the dismal sales of Human, it is pandering at its worst. And the spacey "Do You Know What You Have?" meanders through trippy synths and breathy vocals and doesn't really amount to much.

But overall, Two Eleven is a tight set of tracks that generally defaults to Brandy's raspy-sweet vocals throughout. Frank Ocean penned "Scared of Beautiful" is a gorgeous platform for her vocals to shine, alternating between delicate and fragile to strong and unwavering.

Sleek banger "Slower" puts Brandy in her lower register, all husky and enticing.

While slow building "Without You" brings her voice from meekness to strength over an incredible arc. It is a stunning vocal workout for Brandy.

Despite my fears that Two Eleven was going to be some lame attempt at getting back to the top of the charts by any means necessary, it is a surprisingly mature and thoughtful record which showcases her voice far above all else. While not as adventurous as Aphrodisiac, it finds its strength and purpose by being solid and relying on all of Brandy's strengths, making it one of the best pop R&B albums of the year.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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