If you’re a fan of ’90s R&B, as I -along with many of this site’s regular readers-happen to be, you’ve probably been hard-up for some musical goodness as of late. The Beyonces of the world just aren’t doing it for you (or me,) and when someone from our era makes a record, it almost inevitably ends up being disappointing…or you just don’t know the artist in question has an album out-hey, do you know that K-ci & Jojo and Chante Moore released albums last year?
Neither Toni Braxton nor Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds has come to the table with a compelling album-length piece of work in a decade. While Toni’s appeared sporadically over this time period, the one time King of Pop Music (seriously…from ’92-’98 or so, EVERYTHING was produced and/or written by and/or featured ‘Face) fell almost completely off the map. Love, Marriage & Divorce-the brand new concept album released by Braxton & Edmonds as a duo-is only the second album of original material baring Babyface’s name in the last ten years.
Thankfully, LM&D skews close to what made the two famous in the first place: well-produced, well-written R&B music. I probably say this in every review I write of an R&B album these days, but I’m grateful that there are NO EDM experiments, no guest rappers, no embarrassing stabs at youthful relevance. As you may glean from the title, the album is structured to capture the aftermath of a failed relationship. Both artists have gone through really high-profile divorces (and both have also made jaw-dropping comments about the divorces in the media) and Toni pretty much made her career out of being the broken-hearted girl, so there’s lots of territory to mine here, and the duo mines it successfully.
While LM&D isn’t a Tender Lover or For The Cool In You (or Secrets, for that matter) it’s still a fairly strong album-the best thing either artist has recorded since the turn of the century. The album’s highlight is unquestionably “Where Did We Go Wrong?” Toni and ‘Face’s voices blend together seamlessly. With not much more than an acoustic guitar and percussion as accompaniment, the heartbreak described in this song’s lyrics is palpable.
A review I read on another site criticized LM&D because it wasn’t a tortured divorce album like, say, Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear (which is an AMAZING record and you should own.) Truth is, divorce doesn’t have to be tortured, and pain can be expressed more than one way. There’s anger to be found here (Toni sings “I hope she gives you a disease…but not enough to make you die,” in the piano ballad “I Wish,”) but it comes from a different place than many other breakup-themed albums, and the anger is certainly less drug-and-paranoia fueled than it was in Marvin’s case. In addition to anger, there are also tracks that are caring (the breezy ‘Face solo track “I Hope That You’re Okay”) and sensual (“Sweat,” a playful tune that extols the virtues of make-up sex.) As someone who knows a fair amount of people who’ve been divorced, I can say that anger isn’t the only emotion that comes to the fore in a breakup, and this album does a good job at capturing the many feelings and complications that arise.
While I’m not looking for Toni and Babyface to become a full-time recording duo, LM&D is a nice reminder of the glory days when the two collaborated on hits like “Another Sad Love Song,” “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” and “You’re Makin’ Me High.” The two definitely have a great chemistry, they sing beautifully (this has never been in question) Babyface has not lost his talent for writing great songs, and I hope this album isn’t a one-off. As is, it’s the best thing either of the two has recorded in years.