Album: Two Eleven
Sounds like: Modern, mature R&B (with just a dash of dance floor posturing)
She’s literally grown up before our eyes on TV, but most people don’t think of her as a child star.
She’s had a reality show on VH-1, had run-ins with the law, and her brother is part of a famous sex tape – but most people don’t think of her as a trainwreck.
She was dropped from her record label after poor sales, was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, and at one point even tried to re-invent herself as a rapper – but most people don’t think of her as a has-been.
To most people — Brandy Norwood is just Brandy, and they root for her to do well.
But having people in your corner doesn’t always equal success – especially if we’re talking about new success.
After all, the face that launched a million micro-braids has been of the game for a while – particularly when it comes to music. Her last album, 2008’s Human was generally considered a flop, and its lackluster sales and poor reception are largely blamed for her being dropped from both Epic Records and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
4 years after a bad album is a lifetime in pop music. For a lot of artists it might have been the end of everything – and for a while there it certainly did feel like with all the VH-1 shows and acting roles on the reboot of 90210 that at least musically Brandy was being put out to pasture.
So when you think about it, in terms of her celebrity – she had a choice. People still liked her as an actress and she was landing lots of roles, she even did a stint as a celebrity judge on America’s Got Talent. Brandy could have easily “stayed famous” even if her career as a successful pop singer had faded away. And perhaps if Brandy Norwood’s only desire in life was to be a celebrity she would have chosen that path.
But she didn’t.
What this means is that Brandy’s new album Two Eleven has to do more than just entertain audiences. It’s has to help re-establish the artist as a viable part of the scene. Not that anyone disputes Brandy’s talent or her drive – but in this age of R&B as club/dance music filled with graphic sex talk and autotune, is there really still a place for an artist like her to thrive?
I have to admit that when I first opened this record I worried that Brandy would feel the need to keep up with the joneses. That she’d buy into Autotune, hire all the new hot producers, and load each song with guest star rappers to show that she can sound just like all the young hot stars writing club bangers out there.
And if you were to judge by her new single “Put it Down” featuring (ugh) Chris Brown — you might think that’s exactly what is going on here.
“Put it Down” is a bad mishmash of ham-handed keyboard hooks, super expensive cars, gold chains, endlessly repeated lyrics, annoying samples, and Chris Brown with his shirt off.
It’s also the worst song on the album.
Two Eleven makes a few efforts to reflect the current dance music R&B vibe, but what’s most surprising about the disc is just how often it strays away from that formula. What you get instead is a modern take on the classic R&B sound that helped make Brandy famous the first time around.
Mid Tempo ballads like “Wildest Dreams” speak about the rush of new love while sultry ballads like “Paint This House” offer Brandy’s voice the opportunity to flirt without getting too graphic. There are also repeated nods to the sample heavy percussion beats favored by Timbaland on tracks like “So Sick” and especially “Slower” that offer reminders to the reasons Brandy topped the charts once before.
This is R&B in the vein of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange – where the soulful meets the modern and tries to take the best of both. Ocean even contributes a song “Scared of Beautiful” that was originally intended as a duet, but ends up becoming a haunting solo vehicle for Brandy’s low-toned harmonies.
It takes a few listens to truly grow on you – but there’s a lot more under the covers of Two Eleven than the radio-friendly singles would have you believe. It might not put her back on top of the charts, but it proves that Brandy’s still got a lot to offer.
See what you think, here’s “Put it Down” (feat. Chris Brown)
And for a different view, here’s “Scared of Beautiful”
Lady C and I were chatting about songwriting the other day. A conversation initiated by me (I’m always banging on and on about music to the poor woman), and predominantly about the British pop band Squeeze. I love them to bits, but feel they’re somewhat underrated. In their heyday (the late 70’s and early 80’s) they were a really tight band, with fantastic vocal and melodic hooks, coupled with the most exquisite narrative songwriting. If you don’t believe me, check out ”Up The Junction” in which they tell a perfectly told story of a young couple, with a full story arc, in the space of just a few minutes. Such pithy lyrical and pop-hook skills are something I think we Brits have been particularly good at over the years, and I think this young lady has the potential to follow in the wake of Squeeze and many others, even though the music she plays is of a slightly different vintage.
What strikes immediately, from the opening few bars – sung a cappella – is that one might be about to listen to a highly interesting voice, literally. La Havas is not, it becomes plain, at all interested in obvious pop hooks. What she is interested in – and seems to have a talent for – is the kind of vocal riff that seems blindingly obvious in retrospect, as you find yourself humming one of her slightly off-kilter little vocal gems later in the same day. The title track provides a great example; the chorus sounding vaguely like the kind of keening melody that one might hear in some Middle East or South East Asian music. It may be that the songs music is a continuation of the lyrics, which speak of personal awakening and enlightenment, or it may be that she simply liked the sound: either way, it works an absolute treat. She doesn’t showboat, either, being quite content allowing a natural ebb and flow within the songs: you might hear a bit of Brazilian influence, some 60’s or 70’s English or American folk, a little bit of jazz inflection, maybe. She makes all of it her own, as quietly but authoritatively as the modest but very effective production that accompanies it (by Aqualung’s Matt Hales, who deserves credit for allowing La Havas’ voice and her songwriting to shine so brightly). The nearest equivalents I can think of to her sound would be combinations of Linda Lewis, José Feliciano, Maria Muldaur, Carole King and Kate Bush – quite a list. And vocal histrionics? No, you won’t get any of that from La Havas, but you do get a very pure-sounding voice of great control and finesse, with a fine line in multi-tracking which adds quite a bit of seductiveness to the sound. There is a hefty dose of je ne sais quoi about this album…..
Lyrically, too, La Havas is no slouch. Just like many singer-songwriters, the words serve as the window to look into the room. Some songwriters though, remove all the furniture, leave all the fixings perfectly positioned and in pristine condition, which sometimes makes it hard to see any character amongst the austere interior. La Havas, on the other hand, is more content to leave the detritus of her life on show, as an example of where she has recently been, and as an indication of what she’s learning from the experience. So it is that her lyrics are often like confessionals, but in such a way that I think a lot of listeners will find something here to relate to. These are tales of emergence from situations of manipulation, emotional abuse or exploitation; that are not anti-men but, strikingly, they are pro the individual in trying circumstances – they are all about learning about oneself and pulling through, and telling the tale on the other side. It may even be that what makes the lyrics so compelling is the sense that when you hear it, you’re listening to the current tense, that her life is unfolding before you in song form.
It’s actually quite difficult, I’ve found, to isolate individual sets of lyrics, because I think the quality and consistency is so very high. She may be in the same genre ball-park as everybody’s favourite UK female vocalist du jour, Adele, but for me, La Havas’ way with a vocal hook, her compelling and narrative form of lyric-writing raises the bar higher. Adele will sell more – and it’s to be hoped that an artist like La Havas can be benefit as a result of Adele’s success, but be allowed her own identity. I think she truly merits your attention, and that this is a magnificent album.
Video1: Is Your Love Big Enough?
Video2: No Room For Doubt (featuring Willy Mason)
Vivian Green, pretty face, pretty voice, stank attitude. That’s how I’ve described her since I saw her in concert a few years ago. She was on tour with Lyfe Jennings and Goapele. The first time I saw her she had this very DIVA like attitude. It was like she was too good to be performing for the common people. Really turned me off to her for a long time, add to that, outside of her debut CD Love Story, her CDs were lackluster at best. So of course I had no real expectations for The Green Room, her 4th CD.
If you follow me on twitter then you’ve probably seen me tweet about the various CDs I review. This morning I was tweeting about this CD and how boring I thought it was then our very own DMario made a comment to me stating that Vivian is a sad singer with no volume to her voice. For those that don’t know DMario is an amazing singer himself so whenever he says something to me about vocals I listen! And you know he’s right she has a sadness to her voice and most of her songs go along the same line, just sad for no reason.
I’m really struggling with this review because there is really nothing good or bad to say about this CD. It’s just rather blah. There are a few songs on here that I think are “nice”. But there is nothing that really stands out.
After a series of sad songs she ends the CD with a “I got this, you got this” type of song featuring a few other lesser known R&B female singers: Algebra Blessett, Treena Ferebee, Laurin Talese & Leah Smith. I actually liked this song until her simple ass ruined it by ending the song with a bunch of thank yous. Just ruined the song!
I guess you could say it is one of those CDs that women listen to when they are going through some thangs in a relationship. But it focuses more on the bad instead of a good in a relationship. And let’s face it those types of CDs are more popular than the CDs that praise all the good in a relationship, which is unfortunate.
I think a lot of women might actually like this CD because it touches a part of our heart that we can’t let go of even if we don’t want to admit it. Let’s be real a lot of us will identify with this CD in some way even if we aren’t going through some thangs. We just have no issue revisiting past hurts and this CD will play into that.
Note: I apologize this review seems so disjointed and I can’t fix it
Here is her lead single: Anything out there