" Boyzone - Thank You & Goodnight (2018)
|Toni Braxton - Sex & Cigarettes 2018 |
In the eight years since Toni Braxton released her last solo album, 2010’s Pulse, the orbit of her world has shifted dramatically. With her music career more or less sidelined as a result of a 2008 lupus diagnosis, the onetime queen of grown-and-sexy R&B has watched her genre tilt toward more expressly sinful subject matters. Where she excelled with emotional ballads and coy come-ons—on her 1996 hit “You’re Makin’ Me High,” she refers to her “private parts” instead of something more subtle and alluring—many of the artists who have followed have taken cues instead from the rap-influenced, sexually explicit style of Jodeci and, later, the Weeknd.
That’s not to say that Braxton has been out of the public eye. Since 2011, she’s starred in a hit reality show, “Braxton Family Values,” along with her four sisters, mother, and her two sons (whose father is her ex-husband, Keri Lewis of ’90s R&B group Mint Condition). As Toni has always been the family’s biggest name in the world outside the show, there is an undertone of benevolence implied in her decision to include her sisters on her journey. Braxton’s sister Tamar became the breakout star—she and her now-ex-husband, producer Vincent Herbert, even got a spin-off, “Tamar & Vince”—but themes of sibling rivalry and other familial turmoil, from DUI to divorce, ruled the show.
In the series’ second and third seasons, Braxton and longtime collaborator Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds began working on an album that became their 2014 duets set Love, Marriage, & Divorce. Rooted in soulful sounds and themes of triumphing over pain—the same ones they’ve been cultivating together since recording “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” for the Boomerang soundtrack in 1992—it won them a Grammy for Best R&B Album, and stands as some of the best work of her career. “I feel like I’ve been given a third chance,” Braxton told The Guardian around this time.
Perhaps Love, Marriage, & Divorce was more like one life in a cat’s nine. Braxton’s latest album, Sex & Cigarettes, comes on the heels of an even bigger twist in her life story: Earlier this year, she announced her engagement to Cash Money’s larger-than-life impresario, Birdman. Despite this high-profile relationship, you will not hear too many of-the-moment motifs on the album. (Or any cameos from Birdman’s roster: The only guest here is singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat.) The mildly risque title isn’t in reference to her own pursuits—it’s the name of a sparse piano ballad on which Braxton weeps about the stench of an unfaithful lover who stinks up their shared bed with evidence of his infidelities.
There is palpable anger in her voice on “Sex & Cigarettes,” but beneath it is a deep sea of tranquility, and it’s the latter tone that defines her performances on this album. While there are a few tracks that drift out of ballad territory, like the thick-with-bass “Long As I Live,” Sex & Cigarettes deals mostly in windswept textures—but without the high drama of some of her classic singles, like “Un-Break My Heart” or “Breathe Again.” Her performances are meditative, particularly on standout “FOH,” another piano ballad sung through clenched teeth.
It’s here where Braxton makes her grandest concession to contemporary trends: “FOH,” of course, is an internet abbreviation for “fuck outta here.” This isn’t a game that Braxton has to play, but the song’s fusion of an adult contemporary sound with more modern slang proves that she can hang in 2018 without compromising the qualities that made her famous. She is still innately part of R&B’s fabric, even now that her heyday has passed. “FOH” is not a powerhouse single like “He Wasn’t Man Enough,” but it’s confirmation that no matter which way pop’s tides turn, Braxton has a way to find her own voice and make it work.
Artist: Toni Braxton
Title: Sex & Cigarettes
Year Of Release: 2018
Label: Def Jam Recordings
Genre: RNB , Soul
Quality: Mp3 320 kbps
Total Size: 72 MB
2. Sex & Cigarettes
3. Long As I Live
6. My Heart (feat. Colbie Caillat)