Album Watch: Why Toni Braxton's 'Pulse' Breathes Life Back Into R&B...Well, The Leaked Version Does

Thursday, April 29, 2010

R&B and me have been on different plateaus recently. Somewhere down the winding avenues, Rihanna, Keri Hilson and Trey Songz morphed the genre and made me scrunch my face up as if I had eaten a bucket of Lemonheads. Thus, I kind of abandoned listening to anything resembling mainstream R&B. It was even more disheartening seeing veterans of the genre (Mariah Carey and Usher) and those trying to break their alternative soul roots (Vivian Green and Angie Stone) cheapen their sound to disastrous results. Then in walked Monica with her comeback Still Standing and I was relived that she didn't try to be gimmicky and ended up delivering a straight shot of catchy tunes that felt like old times. Now Toni Braxton comes sauntering in with Pulse, and she follows in Monica's high-heels, as she's managed to show the young kids how to do R&B, without pushing the Benjamin Button age reversal button and still remaining fresh and spirited.

It must be noted that there are two versions of Pulse roaming around, an official version and the unofficial leaked version that wormed its way online last month. The leaked version prompted the singing diva to go back into the studio to trim down and switch things around in order to protect the project. While a majority of what is on the leaked version is present on the newly shortened Pulse, yet some of the spontaneity is lost. Actually, I wish she hadn't done the changes, because the unofficial leak is cohesive and sharp (save for the whimpering title-track and a real clunky juvenile number called, "Don't Call, Just Text"), not to mention it features a great track in the sultry grind of "Clockwork".
Clockwork


Who decided to leave this song off the new pressing? They need to be punished. Same can be said for "Stay" which also didn't make the final cut...
Stay


While not being too bowled over with "Yesterday" or even the rehashing with Trey Songz during the demo runs, on here both tracks sound robust, not to mention "Make My Heart" sounds just as jazzy and funky as the shoulder shimming in the accompanying music video. "Wardrobe" has an arrangement that  tucked away in its groove and if you like "Make My Heart" you'll like the percussive dance of "Looking At Me".

Looking At Me

The only fault I can give this album is that it doesn't have that BIG Toni ballad a la "Un-Break My Heart" or "You Mean The World To Me". "Yesterday" is a contender, but doesn't really feel classic enough, yet sometimes you can't always recapture past successes.

Toni Braxton's charting steam had wore out after 2001's The Heat as her last two albums (2002's More Than A Woman and 2005's Libra) failed to capture audiences. Yet those two weren't trash compactors of crap, as they were on point and energetic efforts that deserved more attention than they received. Pulse does them a one-two-punch though and brings the singer back to her 1996 Secrets days. The material suits her voice (thankfully that sultry alto isn't drenched in all the synths), the topics fit her age (she's partying, but not with her "crew") and the production is sleek as glass and infectious. I was truly pleasantly surprised with this, as I terribly thought this would be a dud since a lot of my favorite divas (Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys et al) have been turning out mediocre efforts that undermine their talent. This is not the case with Pulse.

Hopefully, those who disengaged themselves from Toni during those bleak minimal charting years and enjoyed Toni during the days where she was complaining about singing "another love song" and wearing a slicked down short coif will give Pulse a listen. They will hear Miss Braxton come back to form and teach these meddling kids and veterans how to age gracefully in R&B music.

Rating: 9.0/10
Release Date: May 4, 2010

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