Toni Braxton - Pulse Review
Posted by Dan Pardalis on 05.05.2010
Could Ms. Braxton bring her career back to life with her new album Pulse?
After a hugely successful run in the 90’s, record label issues, pregnancies, health problems, and other difficulties seemed to put a hold on Toni Braxton’s musical life. Despite this, with the support of new label Atlantic, the now 42-year-old is making an attempt to bounce back with her sixth studio album and her first release in five years. Can she overcome and manage to breathe life back into her long-stalled career with Pulse?
2. Make My Heart
3. Hands Tied
5. If I Have To Wait
6. Lookin' At Me
9. No Way
11. Why Won't You Love Me
The album starts off strong with the ballad “Yesterday”, which features hard hitting, live-sounding drums reminiscent of songs like Beyonce’s “Halo”, along with twinkling synths that flutter in the background, as Toni leaves behind a man she doesn’t love any more. This is actually a brilliant comeback song for her, as not only does it have radio potential, but it captures the essence of leaving things behind (for example the past few years of her ailing career), and moving onto bigger and better things. As a side note, the remix version with Trey Songz is just that little bit better, as it gives a male perspective, providing a nice contrast, while at the same time adding some much-needed radio credibility. It’s a shame that it wasn't included on the main tracklisting of the album, but the original still remains a very solid song in its own right, and a great intro track.
The tempo picks way up with the energetic “Make My Heart”. Using a super up-tempo, old-school brass-based sample, combined with a couple of rippling synth leads, this fast paced track kicks the album well into gear. A repeated-syllables based chorus is always catchy and the groove of this track makes it seem like party monster Swizz Beatz is bound to pop up at any moment and shout his signature “showtime!” over the top of it – in the end, it’s both a youthful and universally likeable track that could even get the older folks moving along too.
At this point the album seems to be taking us on an up and down ride by following up the frenetic pace of the former song with “Hands Tied”. With a soft piano intro, some solid snares dropping in, and some great melodic progression, this is R&B much more in the traditional vein. This is followed up quite similarly by the song “Woman”, a cover of one of Australian pop princess Deltra Goodrem’s songs. It boasts hard claps and sparse production that allow her vocals to stand out, as she embraces her age and points out that the older ladies (especially MILFs like Toni) need love too. “If I Have To Wait” is a vaguely country-esque ballad using some live instrumentation as Ms. Braxton’s signature low register sits quite comfortably in the track. Lyrically, the songs on this album are all surprisingly solid, as Ms. Braxton never seems to foray into anything too awkward for her age range – she could have very well taken the “mutton dressed as lamb” route, but she seems to embrace her adult audience, and never seems out of her comfort zone at all.
Her first slip up, however, rears its head almost exactly halfway through the album with “Lookin’ At Me”, which, with its constant claps and familiar melody, manages to feel a lot like “Single Ladies”-lite. The next song “Wardrobe” on the other hand, uses a genuinely unique concept, and fits in well with the “grown and sexy” vibe Toni seems to be going for on this album. A great thing about this latest effort is that all the beats on here are up-to-date, and bring her into the new era of R&B quite smoothly. There are a lot of artists out there that think the soundscapes they were famous for in the 90’s are still relevant, but Braxton shows that she accepts that it’s a different era without sounding contrived at all.
At the tail end of the album, a song that could have been awfully generic in “Hero”, comes off as a convincing ballad. With some gated synths and thumping kicks knocking in the background, along with some symphonic strings at the end, Braxton lets us know quite compellingly that her “heart never had a hero”. A hint of Jordin Sparks in this arrangement once again gives us the feeling that we’ve heard this all before somewhere, but in the end it’s quite a decent song on its own despite being a little bit familiar. After this comes the unfortunate “No Way”, a slow, more acoustic track, that is perhaps the most “outdated” sounding song on the album, and is as generic as it is forgettable.
Braxton gains some ground back with the title track “Pulse”, which features what is probably one of the best vocal melodies on the album. This song focuses on reviving a dying love, and the metaphor works well enough to make it a late highlight towards the end of the album. It would have, perhaps, been wiser to keep “Pulse” as the last song, as “Why Won’t You Love Me”, seems to tread down some very well-travelled territory, leaving the album on a bad (and low) note.
The 411: Pulse doesn’t do anything new, but it seems like Toni has definitely had her finger on it – Braxton embraces fully the new direction of R&B without sounding like she’s simply jumping on the bandwagon, giving us quite a good comeback album. There are a few very strong cuts here, with a mixture of duds thrown in, but it feels like this will probably be an under appreciated and slept-on album for the most part. Overall, it seems that this album could very well be the one to revive her career - it's just keeping that pulse beating that's key.