Toni Braxon is an unimpeachable icon, one of the voices who reconfigured R&B during its 90s Imperial phase. Later turning her hand to acting with a run of hugely successful Broadway appearances, her 2018 album ‘Sex & Cigarettes’ lit up the charts. Clearly, this American legend has nothing to prove.
‘Spell My Name’ is hard to fault, then, but also difficult to truly love – her new album, it’s a slight affair, clocking in at a slender 10 songs, one of which is technically a ‘bonus’.
‘Un-Break My Heart’ goddess is an impeccable vocalist, and the highs on display rank with some of the best of her career. ‘Gotta Move On’ for example, pairs Toni Braxton with modern day trailblazer H.E.R., while the vastly popular single ‘Do It’ couples the divine R&B chanteusse with indefatigable creative iconoclast Missy Elliott.
Aside from these songs – and frisky opener ‘Dance’ - it’s a largely down tempo affair, and this leads to each song blurring into the next. There’s a preponderance of slo-mo balladry, and while the likes of ‘Spell My Name’ and ‘Happy Without Me’ are expertly sung, it’s no more than that – the sound of a legend showing off her chops, maybe, but ceding ground at the cutting edge.
It’s far from a failure, with ‘Spell My Name’ boasting moments of rich maturity, the kind of lyrical openness that has always made her work so intriguing. Yet there’s also an unwillingness to embrace contemporary movements in R&B, in the manner of, say, Brandy’s recent LP.
But perhaps that’s churlish. Toni Braxton has more than earned the right to exist on her own terms, and fans will find much to adore on her tenth studio album.
Words: Robin Murray
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