Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lukewarm Responses To The Heat Fade Some

The Good: Excellent voice, Generally well-produced, Some nice instrumentals
The Bad: Nothing spectacular in the lyrics
The Basics: In a rare "recommend" for just the sound of the album, The Heat portrays Toni Braxton as a singer with a great voice, if not a spectacular message.

Toni Braxton might just end up on my growing list of artists that I own no albums from but who I figure I ought to own their "Best of" album should it ever be released. Weezer and Everclear (which I understand has one) and TLC (ditto) are on that list largely because I've liked singles I've heard from them and (with the former two) their style is distinctive but limited. Toni Braxton, based on the songs I've heard from her on the radio and now listening to her album The Heat is an odd example of an artist with a clear talent for singing whose work leaves the listener with a disconcertingly neutral feeling.

The Heat is a pretty generic r&b vocal album. Toni Braxton has an amazing voice, most comparable to Sade. She has exceptional range and is able to hold notes long and slow, creating a smoky, sensual sound with nothing but her voice. She does a lot of songs in the mid-range (alto) scales, but she's not afraid to go higher for songs like "You've Been Wrong Before." She clearly has a talent for singing.

Moreover, the album has a generally good balance as far as the production - like many performers in the r&b field, she plays no instruments, relying instead on background music to be constructed. Braxton, who produced the album with L.A. Reid and Babyface, makes a decent mix of basslines and faint strings, synths and guitars to make a sound that supports her voice well. Most of the album's tracks are slow, so this is a good album for listening to when one is in more of a contemplative or romantic mood. It's not a big dance album.

The problem, though, with The Heat is the lyrics. I respect that Toni Braxton wrote or co-wrote almost all of the songs on the album, but the overwhelming impression one gets when listening to the lyrics is either indifference or the idea that Braxton is bound by antiquated notions of male gender roles. Two of the singles - I was surprised to learn both were released as singles and both were (more or less) hits - are "He Wasn't Man Enough" and "Just Be A Man About It." Thank you, Toni Braxton, for reminding us what men are supposed to be. Sigh.

The sad thing is, the only other song that leaves an impression on The Heat is "Spanish Guitar," which is a decent song. Braxton entices the listener with, "I wish that I was in your arms like that Spanish Guitar / You would play me all night long until the dawn." That's where the real heat of the album comes from. Braxton's voice stands out and I'm surprised: 1. It wasn't released as the first single and 2. It did not do better in the mainstream when it was.

The problem with The Heat, then is the lack of impression it leaves with the listener. Why do I recommend this average album? It's one of the rare instances I will recommend one simply because it sounds good. You know how opera fans will tell you that even if you don't understand the words being sung, opera is worthwhile for the emotive experience? Well, for a change I'm going to accept that concept and apply it to The Heat. The lyrics are unmemorable, but the combination of Braxton's voice and the decent backing make it a worthwhile listen, even if not to own.

For a change, I'll let that be enough. At least until Braxton releases a Best of album (which is highly unlikely given the number of recording companies she's been with already). . . .

The best song is "Spanish Guitar," the weakest track is "Just Be A Man About It" (though the rap in "Gimme Some" is pretty insipid. . .).

For other r&b album reviews, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Hotter Than July - Stevie Wonder
Things Just Ain’t The Same (single) – Deborah Cox
Seal - Seal


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed at my Index Page where the reviews are organized from Best To Worst!

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

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