[REVIEW] R&B’s Girl Next Door Comes Into Her Womanhood on “Two Eleven”

October 16, 2012 marked the release of Brandy’s highly anticipated sixth studio album “Two Eleven.” The album is a comeback of sorts as it follows 2004’s underappreciated “Afrodisiac” and 2008’s commercially disappointing “Human.”

By now most of us are familiar with Brandy’s story: Budding R&B songstress begins laying the groundwork for a Whitney-esque career by becoming America’s 90’s pop princess with multi-platinum albums, hit movies /TV shows, and numerous endorsement deals. These career highs were followed by a sea of lows which led many to believe Brandy was an artist who seemed to have lost confidence in her gift and in her-self.

So, what’s a diva in despair to do? Well if you’re Brandy you assemble a team of the hottest hit makers in current Hip-Hop & R&B and craft one of the most forward moving R&B albums in recent memory. And that is exactly what “Two Eleven” is. It’s a progressive forward leaning R&B album that allows an artist like Brandy to maintain her roots, but also branch out and explore current elements of the genre. While her contemporaries have made stabs at staying relevant by infusing their music with electronic dance pop, or by re-creating 90’s era new jack swing, Brandy has created a body of work that holds up as current and fresh, yet grounded in old school R&B.

The project’s second single; “Wildest Dreams” is a breezy ode to finding a once unimaginable love. As Brandy’s been forthright in discussing her struggles with accepting and loving herself, “Wildest Dreams” is about finding that lover who loves you flaws and all. Or maybe, Brandy’s talking about finally loving herself? That’s the beauty of the record. At one part it’s a declaration of self-love and on the other it’s excitement at finding another half who loves all of you.

Listen to “Wildest Dreams”

On the Sean Garret penned “So Sick,” Brandy backs the track with “Oooh” harmonies as she sings about that disappointment we all have in ourselves when we start compromising our values for someone we deeply care for. It’s lyrically one of the strongest on “Two Eleven,” as it’s relatable for anyone ever having been in a situation where a shady lover is continually welcomed back with open arms.

While previous efforts found Brandy talking about “sittin up in her room,” R&B’s girl next door gets a little more intimate and shares what might be going on in her bedroom with the steamy “Slower.” When she coos, “I love the way you’re touching all over my body, kissing and licking up on me I know you want to beat up, but I’m sorry, that ain’t really my thing,” it’s Brandy showing us she’s down to get down, but on her terms. It’s a refreshing breath of confidence and sexuality needed from her at this point in her career. It’s Janet’s “Control” but done the Brandy way.

“No Such thing as Too Late” finds the singer demonstrating some of her best vocal moments, as she glides between smoky lows and then slowly rises to her upper register. Sean Garret and Bangladesh sample Lykke Li’s “Tonight” on Brandy’s “Let Me Go.” The production is a bit frantic, but still holds up as a solid track on the album.

The Piano production and vocal delivery on “Without You” make it a standout on the album. She willfully acknowledges when she told her lover that she didn’t need him, she wasn’t being completely honest with herself. It follows the confessional theme on “Two Eleven.” This is Brandy being honest with her-self and with the mistakes she’s made. Brandy being honest with what she wants from her lover both in and out of the bedroom, and ultimately what she wants out of life.

There are a lot of great songs on the album. Lead single “Put it Down” garnered the right amount of buzz needed to spark interest in this project, but the standout track is the Frank Ocean written “Scared of Beautiful.” It’s Brandy at her most vulnerable, emoting a fear of leaning in to her full self, the lightness, the darkness and embracing the whole person that she is. It serves as a personal narrative of the last few years of her life, and the lead up to “Two Eleven.”

Listen to “Put It Down”

Two Eleven is a success on multiple fronts. First, there exists a healthy co-dependency between artist and song. The tracks on “Two Eleven” may not be as strong without a vocalist of Brandy’s caliber interpreting the lyrics. But Brandy also needed current songs to bring her into this new musical era. The songs here are sung with conviction and grittiness. Second, her ability to bring a song to life and story tell has gotten stronger, mostly because she’s improved at learning how to use her instrument. Make no mistake about it; Brandy was schooled in the vocal house that Nippy built, but what she’s managed to do with her voice and harmonizing is create a distinct tone and sound that is identifiable to her. Music lovers listen for her silky harmonizing or a perfectly placed run that enhances rather than detracts from the song.

At nearly twenty years in the game, it’s fresh and exciting to see Brandy paint with so many colors on “Two Eleven” and come out with a solid album. The album is a testament to timing and aligning the right singer with the right producers, with an expectation that everyone involved bring their best.

Here’s hoping Brandy and her team’s hard work has paid off, and here is a woman whose done everything right and should finally reap the success worthy of her talent.

“Two Eleven,” Brandy’s sixth album, is available now via RCA/Chameleon.

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