Brandy’s teetered on the edge of irrelevance for almost a decade, now. She was displaced as the black community’s official Teen Queen Good Girl by Beyonce Knowles almost at the same time she found herself fighting with the likes of Britney, Christina and Jessica for the pop crown. After scoring two smash albums, she became increasingly known for a) becoming a parent, b) getting married, c) lying to the public about being married in order to preserve her image, d) making an ill-advised collaboration with Timbaland before he got his mojo back with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake (or…finding Danja, whichever you believe,) e) a tragic car accident, f) being Ray-J’s big sister.
Despite teetering, though, she’s never fallen off the edge, and Brandy’s sixth album, Two Eleven, makes a case for being the best album of her nearly 20-year career. It’s a largely down-tempo affair, and while there’s some modern production trickery involved, it’s still very recognizable as a Brandy album. It’s solid pop/R&B, and although it’s written and produced by what seems like a cast of thousands, Brandy’s familiar voice ties everything together and keeps the album from sounding disjointed.
In the ’90s, it was kind of a thing to say that Brandy couldn’t sing. Two Eleven officially proves that false. No, Brandy isn’t a churchy powerhouse like Monica, the vocalist that she is most often compared to, but her instrument is quite versatile, and on songs like “No Such Thing As Too Late,” she proves that she learned a thing or two from her mentor, Whitney Houston. One thing that I find intriguing is the fact that Brandy is utilizing more of her sexy lower register. “Hardly Breathing” merges that voice perfectly with an 808s & Heartbreak-esque electronic background, and while a song like “Slower” sounds like a holdover from the Rodney Jerkins days (she and Jerkins worked together extensively on three of her albums,) she sounds less childlike and more vixen-ish. It gives the song a mature, mysterious vibe that I like.
Maturity is the name of the game on Two Eleven. It would’ve been very easy for Brandy to retreat from her signature sound and jump on every bandwagon imaginable for this album. She probably could’ve outfitted every other song with the newest buzz rapper (or a member of Lil Wayne’s Young Money camp) or she could’ve gone the electro-pop route and gotten herself a couple of Max Martin songs. Instead, she makes the type of album you’d expect an R&B/pop singer in her early thirties to make, which speaks well to her instincts (or at least the instincts of her A&R people.) The only misstep? “Put It Down,” the album’s first single, which pairs her with a rapping Chris Brown, and is something of a red herring in the context of the whole set.
All of this to say that Brandy’s still got the goods. Although this may not have been reflected on the charts, 2012’s not been a bad year for straight-up R&B, as albums by Dwele, SWV, Mint Condition, and now Two Eleven will attest to. Here’s hoping the streak continues, for Brandy and for the genre in general.