Thursday, August 30, 2012

Plagues Of Generic R&B/Hip-Hop Hit On Brandy’s Full Moon!

The Good: Good voice . . . when it is evident
The Bad: Completely produced backgrounds, Little distinctive track to track
The Basics: Usually, I like long albums, but this one is (aside from the second track) one droning, elongated auditory murk of haze. Full Moon is a true disappointment.

In this time of beleaguered celebrities - it does seem to be an especially good season for those who enjoy Celebrity Schadenfreude - I feel compelled to listen to music and watch movies I might not normally watch. In the case of Brandy, the young musical performer (on Full Moon, she only co-wrote six of the seventeen tracks) impressed me with her debut for no other reason than when it was released, her single "I Wanna Be Down" thwarted the almost certain hegemony of Boyz II Men's #1 "I'll Make Love To You" on the pop charts after only one week. Boyz II Men retook the top spot, but that a new performer was able to knock out the top group of the day after a week was pretty impressive.

Sadly, eight years later, Brandy has little to crow about with her album Full Moon. I tend to write what I hope comes across as rather sophisticated reviews, which in the case of music reviews means evaluating a number of the tracks, the lyrics, the album as a whole, and - if I have experience - compare it to other listening options by the same group. Full Moon instantly suggested to me the potential for what might seem like a significantly less developed or sophisticated review, though such is certainly not intentional. Full Moon has a rather serious problem, but it's one that leaps out to the listener upon the first listen.

Full Moon (the album) is plagued by production values so similar track to track that the entire album blurs together with a singular lack of distinction.

After the first two tracks, "B Rocka Intro" (a kind of internet accessing sound byte that apparently tries to define the listening experience as a search result) and Full Moon, (arguably the best track on the album) the album descends into fourteen tracks that blend one into another with a sound that makes it hard to separate tracks, a kind of somnambulic listening experience where the listener is dragged through a morass of the same sound for an hour without caring. Then the album hits the end with the instantly recognizable "Die Without You," a cover of the P.M. Dawn song. It's a poor cover, neither adding anything special to the original nor reinventing it nor even making it Brandy's own.

The bulk of the album is defined quite simply as Brandy's voice, usually produced to the point that it is unclear how much is her actual voice, strong basslines and drum machine backings, and background vocals that create a narcoleptic siren sound that drowns out the main lyrics. In short, Brandy's album quickly becomes less about Brandy's voice, the lyrics she is singing or anything other than a production spectacle.

That's the long and short of it.

Sadly, it seems this is what Brandy is comfortable with. Reading the liner notes, every track has an extensive list of people writing, producing and engineering the songs before the lyrics to each track. The performer seems to prioritize the spectacle over the substance and it does not work. Full Moon (the album) is background heavy. There are no musicians on this album; the music is all generated, assembled and it sounds that way. The drums are drum machine perfect and the instrumental sounds that back Brandy's singing are either unrecognizable as actual instruments or weirdly incongruent (like the production-perfect harp sound on "Apart").

But ultimately, the sound problem is that with all of the production to create a background sound, the background becomes the foreground. That is to say that the production-heavy backing is what the ear is hearing with Brandy's vocals coming in to support (read: "be drown out by") them. That's terrible production. Artists ought to be supported by their production not a tool to it.

But then, Brandy is not much of an artist. That's not intended as an insult; Tina Turner is a performer more than an artist also. But Turner tends to dominate her sound, where Brandy is made a servant to hers.

Full Moon spawned two singles on mainstream radio, “Full Moon” and "What About Us?" If you've heard the latter track, you've heard the majority of this album. It is indicative of the quasi-vocal, quasi-danceable tracks that bleed from one to another into this mess. “Full Moon,” I like and it's not for its lyrical strengths. It sounds good. It's a dance track that . . . well, does what it's supposed to. It inspires the mind to images of smoky clubs, dancing close and not really caring about lyrics more than sound. And it sounds good.

Sadly, Full Moon (the album) is not lyrically strong. Or it might be, I can barely hear the lyrics, the sound is so produced to emphasize the music over the lines. It's so extreme a problem that to evaluate the lyrics fairly, I had to look at the liner notes. That's after three listens. And after looking at the lyrics, I just don't even care to comment. Some of the writing is decent in that it tells stories or almost attempts to express emotions, but it's a wash because I don't hear it when I pop the c.d. in.

On my review of The Open Door by Evanescence (here!) I copped out in the conclusion on finding a best track, which is very much unlike me. On Full Moon, I will do a similar thing, but the inverse; Full Moon (the song) is the superlative track. ALL the rest is mush. There's no worst track because it all blends together into one lousy track after Full Moon, though "Die Without You" was distinctive, but not in a good way. When it hit that final track and I heard the butchered, soulless version of the song, I nearly cried. That's not how to make albums.

Or a getaway. (I couldn't resist! ;) )

For other Hip-Hop or R&B reviews, please visit my takes on:
“I Don’t Want To” (single) – Toni Braxton
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Outkast
“Things Just Ain’t The Same” (single) – Deborah Cox


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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