R&B Vet Brandy Sports A Comback Thats A Bit ‘Two’ Little Too Late
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Hearing ’90s R&B sensation Brandy Norwood attempt to make a comeback album in 2012 is like watching a camel play water sports: here is a creature so out of its element that one can only assume it finds its current situation as confusing and terrifying as the onlooker does. Brandy’s liberal auto-tune, squashy record skips, and general ’90s-ness make Two Eleven as anachronistic to the current hip-hop scene as it is overly long. Seriously, who asked for 17 tracks from this poor woman? I imagine Brandy staggering around the studio in a nylon vest, being pushed into strange rooms with a lyric sheet: “Sing, Brandy! Sing like Destiny’s Child is still topping the charts!”
This is actually not Brandy’s first attempt at reinvention. The artist is coming off the ephemeral career of her rap alter-ego, Bran’Nu, whose collaboration with rapper/producer Timbaland was retroactively deemed a horrible mistake by everyone involved. It’s no wonder this album seeks the prenatal warmth of Brandy’s original launch into mainstream.
Before delving into Two Eleven, the album name itself deserves attention. Despite seeming like some sort of sad bastardization of 2011 (which I hear was a big year for Bran’Nu), the number actually refers to Feb. 11, the day that Brandy’s friend and inspiration, Whitney Houston, passed away. It’s also Brandy’s birthday.
This might suggest a more melancholy theme, but the material rejects that. In fact, it’s sort of unclear whether the album commemorates Whitney Houston’s death or simply one of Brandy’s favorite numbers. I’d like to say the album is a reverent examination of life’s mysterious cycle, but unfortunately, that would be an egregious fib. The only mention of Whitney I could find in Two Eleven is her name being whispered—literally, whispered—at the opening of the second track. It’s entirely possible I misheard. The songs are almost exclusively about lovers, even “Without You,” which you would have thought would be a chance for some nostalgia. Clearly, Brandy wanted to go in a different direction.
The first lyrics you hear off this fine collection set the stage gloriously. The track “Wildest Dreams” opens with “Out of an unknown place / kinda like left field / you came into my life.” Though hilarious, “kinda like left field” makes you wonder if Brandy knows what an idiom is. In “What You Need,” Brandy goes for sexiness in a big way, describing in detail what exquisite sensuality her lover is in for. This includes making love by “waterfalls” under a “sky so sunny” and “saying sexy words in Spanish.” Are you hyperventilating yet? Because Brandy is gonna throw in some dirty talk: “Yeah baby boy / You’re so mannish … I’m your chef, cook for you”.
Whew. Let’s all take five.
All this is fittingly backed by digital instrumentals, uninspired rhythm loops and bubbly synth hums. The whole sound is so chiming and subdued, it borders dangerously on Muzak. Yet the most offensive part of Two Eleven is its single release, “Put it Down, ft. Chris Brown.” The track begins with a male voice rapidly repeating “Imma put it down / You gon’ fall in love” while some numbskull in the studio screws with the clip’s tone. Brandy joins in top lyrical form, postulating blithely on “chivalry” and “the way you flex.” Her part is still more lucid than Brown’s, though, as he prattles incoherently in unattached, fragmental thoughts. Something about “cake?” Or something? This is actually one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. Oh God, now they’re spelling. Make it end!
Brandy’s crooning, heavily produced R&B is clearly of a different era. Even when she attempts modernity, it’s a train wreck. That isn’t to say, of course, that new Brandy doesn’t have a flair for the avant-garde … No siree! You see, she opened her album with a synthesized instrumental titled “Intro,” and then ended with another titled “Outro.” Now, if that isn’t revolutionary album structuring, I’ll be the only kid in class without a Furby!
Brandy’s strange career has pigeonholed her as an unremarkable one-trick-pony, like a pony who can only apply tired R&B style to even more tired concepts. Or a camel who plays Waboba. Either way, Two Eleven is a goofy strike at relevance that falls tremendously flat.