Toni Braxton and Babyface
As long as human beings have been able to harmonize, there have been love songs: upbeat, euphoric sonnets about connecting with that special someone or melancholy, misery-tinged melodies about hopes dashed, hearts broken and dreams deferred. But what about the in-between or the aftermath?
As long as human beings have been able to harmonize, there have been love songs: upbeat, euphoric sonnets about connecting with that special someone or melancholy, misery-tinged melodies about hopes dashed, hearts broken and dreams deferred. But what about the in-between or the aftermath? What's left for the ones who are clutching love by a thread, unsure of the next step or those on the other side of through with boxes packed, leases broken and U-Hauls parked out front?
Those infuriated, angst-filled and downright awkward moments are deftly examined in the first-ever collaboration album of singer, songwriter and super-producer Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and his former protege-turned-pop and reality show diva, Toni Braxton, entitled Love, Marriage & Divorce. If you remember how flawlessly these two melded together in the 1990s (1992's Boomerrang soundtrack and forward), then you'll also enjoy hearing the nimble chemistry they recreate, even if you aren't thisclose to booking an appearance on Divorce Court.
Outside of the studio, there have been three marriages and three divorces between the two of them, with Ms. Braxton contently single and Babyface engaged to marry for yet a third time, so it's a given that the 11 featured tracks (seven of them co-written by Toni) contain authentic glimpses into multiple stages of legalized or otherwise long-term relationships. Tumultuous personal lives aside, 'Face and Toni's musical marriage is a thriving one, evidenced by the set's first hit single, "Hurt You," where the soap opera-recalling intro and reciprocal shots fired (ugly words, infidelity) turn into watery pleas for another try: "Can we start over again?" Braxton husks out against a backdrop of Babyface's stricken moans. "Can we start Baby, as friends? Give you another try/ then tender kisses you'll give to me..."
Just as it goes in real life,sequencing from one emotional state of mind to the next isn't particularly in order, but since Babyface and Braxton tap so adroitly into how conflicted couples think and feel, the ride isn't as bumpy as it could've been. "Roller Coaster" toes the razor-thin line between love and hate ("I need you, can't stand you/I want you, but damn you"), while "Sweat" hopes to abandon verbal jabs for a horizontal duel to settle the score ("So if you really wanna fight, we can take it to the bed tonight [let's sweat it out].").
The most revealing perspectives are found within the solo turns, such as Babyface's 'Tender Lover'-esque farewell, "I Hope That You're Okay," which conveys his depth of caring despite the solemn declaration to leave, as well as a pair of blunt and bitter Toni tunes. A wealthy baller and former shot-caller gets the dueces in the collaboratively-penned "I'd Rather Be Broke" and then there's the Braxton-written, piano-driven "I Wish," chock-filled with nearly every spiteful scenario that the newly-scorned have imagined or expressed toward an ex (and if you haven't yet, just keep living): "I wish, I wish, I wish she'd break your heart, like you did me/I hope you're unhappy. And I pray, I pray, I pray she brings you to your knees/so you'll come back to me. I really don't wanna see you die, but only make you cry."
As a whole, Love, Marriage & Divorce is competently produced, polished in its execution and has ultimately resulted in rather enjoyable, if not outstanding, R&B. Some songs veer into overly-polite platitudes ("The D Word") or mediocrity ("Take It Back") and others feel tacked on simply to switch the mood up ("Reunited" and the Studio 54-type disco groove, "Heart Attack"), but those infrequent missteps likely won't matter to their die-hard fans, who will likely be too busy singing along, relating and even reminiscing to notice. Solidly Recommended.
By Melody Charles