Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Brandy’s Back and Long Overdue, with “Human”

Not too long ago Brandy's Right Here (Departed) began to play on a cd that I made for play in my car, to which one of my friends responded "Why is this on here?" I'm not friends with that person anymore.

I'll never believe that there's any good reason to dislike Brandy. Perhaps one can be indifferent to her, but to flat-out not like her is hard to do. Though she isn't my favorite artist (not even top 5), and I always chose Monica when it was necessary to ride for one or the other (and in 1995, it was always necessary), Brandy easily delivers some of the most consistently good material in contemporary R&B. From her harmlessly naïve self-titled debut, to the tragically underrated masterpiece Afrodisiac, Brandy knows her lane and is always at home in her element. And though her latest offering Human is less inspired than her last two albums, it still manages to outshine any other R&B album released this year.

Human is easily Brandy's most adult-contemporary album to date, and that's both a strength and a weakness. On one hand she sounds more mature and confident than she has in her entire career; on the other she's sort of boring. I can't help but to think that people will compare the album to Usher's Here I Stand in that regard. But while Here I Stand was boring in terms of subject matter (as Usher goes from trickin' to nursing), it's Human's mellow production and warming vocals that make it almost too calming. However, once you've accepted the fact that Brandy would rather tuck you into bed after the club than meet you there, Human becomes a very enjoyable experience.

The album's first single, Right Here (Departed) should have been a hit. Upon reuniting with his one time muse, Rodney Jerkins greets Brandy with the most complementary production that the two have collaborated on since her Never Say Never days. When we last heard the pair together on 2002's Full Moon, Brandy's vocals were being stifled under the weight of Jerkins' production, but Right Here is organic R&B at its best. While Brandy sounds good on Right Here, her vocals are just short of flawless on the lovelorn ballad Long Distance, in which the singer laments the difficulty of preserving love from a distance. Torn Down picks up the pace a bit, but keeps the heartbreak vibe intact, while the Natasha Bedingfield penned Fall boosts the album with a much needed shot of urgency. Sadly, it's the album's final track.

The album's title track and The Definition, are the two song that standout most on Human. While the production on both tracks is consistent with the rest of the album, the writing paired with Brandy's delivery is moving. "I'm only human, forgive me, love me, save me from myself," she begs on Human, while later asserting that "I've dropped all of that baggage…the pain, you can have it," on The Definition. These tracks take Brandy back to her Afrodisiac best, when the pain in her voice gave impact to her lyrical confessions. But what really makes these tracks amazing is not the hurt that inspires them, but the optimism that thrives in spite of that negativity.

While Human is not without its low points (1st & Love is barely listenable), it still qualifies as an exceptional album. While I'll maintain that we've seen Brandy do better, we haven't seen many other artists do nearly as well. I don't believe that she will ever experience the commercial success of her peak again, but I hope Brandy stays in the game for a long while, as she's a consistent breath of fresh air to an increasingly stale industry. And who knows, Brandy could surprise us all and make the commercial comeback she deserves. Never say never; right?

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