During the early stages of her career, Brandy was celebrated as one of the most uniquely talented artists of her generation. However, as the landscape of Pop music drastically changed in the 2000s, she lost her footing as a major force on the charts. Now, after years in the studio, Brandy is finally ready to reclaim her prominence with her new album, ‘Two Eleven’.
Serving as the official followup to her commercially underwhelming ‘Human’ LP, ‘Two Eleven’ reintroduces Brandy to music fans as an artist who isn’t trying to fit in with the trends currently dominating the airwaves. Rather, it showcases the husky contralto experimenting with her sound while remaining true to her R&B roots.
Songs such as the sensual ‘Slower’ and ‘Paint this House’ depict Brandy confidentially embracing her sexuality, both literally and figuratively, as she commands an unnamed lover with her carefully layered vocals. In fact, the shy girl we see in interviews has given way to a woman who knows exactly what she wants and how she wants it, and it’s almost as though her painfully awkward ‘Afrodisiac’ music video never happened! Notice I used the word ‘almost’.
Other examples of Brandy newly empowered sexual side can be heard on the tracks ‘Can You Hear Me Now?’ and shockingly raunchy ‘What You Need’. Bolstered by throbbing bass, the latter song features a catchy vocal loop and sudden tempo changes that makes it a strong contender as a future single.
Honestly, ‘What You Need’, which strangely appears as a deluxe edition bonus track, would have been a better lead release from ‘Two Eleven’ than ‘Put it Down (Ft. Chris Brown)’. Despite developing into the Urban radio winner that I predicted when it first debuted in April, ‘Put it Down’ is far from a clear indicator of the direction of this album. Luckily, Brandy’s team can still follow in Nicki Minaj’s footsteps and let ‘What You Need’ be to ‘Two Eleven’ as ‘Super Bass’ was to ‘Pink Friday’.
Another possible single from ‘Two Eleven’ is the infectious ‘Let Me Go’, which is an interpolation of Lykke Li’s ‘Tonight’. It is obvious the song’s producers Sean Garrett and Bangladesh were commissioned to ensure that this album wasn’t just a winner with the critics but also entailed commercial material because they were also responsible for most of its radio-friendly content.
“…whether or not it was intentional, the structure of ‘Without You’ is almost identical to the theme music of ‘The Young & the Restless’…”
Perhaps, the most interesting production is ‘Without You’. Crafted by Harmony Samuels, the song features a captivating melody that’s should sound familiar to dedicated fans of daytime television soap operas. That’s right, whether or not it was intentional, the structure of ‘Without You’ is almost identical to the theme music of ‘The Young & the Restless’ and I am not ashamed to admit that such a resemblance is the key reason that the track is one of my personal favourites on ‘Two Eleven’.
Yet, before we discuss the latest drama on television, let’s move on to another standout track. Do you remember when Brandy spoke about recording Frank Ocean’s ‘Scared of Beautiful’ and stated that working with him was one of highlights of career? Well, she must have had a moving experience in the studio because her version of the record wins the title of being the best tune on ‘Two Eleven’.
Passionate, honest and gritty, ‘Scared of Beautiful’ tells the story of an inner struggle for self-acceptance and the fear of her own greatness. There is no question why Brandy chose to record the song as it is a perfect depiction of the battles she faced throughout her own career, and the way she belts it in full voice – a rare feat for her in the post-‘Full Moon’ era – only emphasises her connection to the music.
‘Two Eleven’ is mostly filler-free and there are few moments where Brandy drops the ball
hopefully on Ray J’s foot. In addition to ‘Put it Down’, the only songs that should have been omitted were the forgettable ‘So Sick’, ‘Music’ and the far too long for no good reason ‘Do You Know What You Have?’, the last of which should have been shortened as an interlude.
Thankfully, songs such as ‘Wish Your Love Away’ and ‘Hardly Breathing’ provide ample distractions from Brandy’s minor missteps, thanks to her haunting vocal performances and clever melodies. Speaking of her vocals, don’t expect Brandy to sing in her neglected upper registers on ‘Two Eleven’ because she croons comfortably in a mix of heavily layered harmonies throughout the majority of the LP.
In conclusion, Brandy’s ‘Two Eleven’ is a solid album and a fine addition to her catalogue of music. With what should have been the followup to her ‘Afrodisiac’ LP, she has put forward a well-produced and generally enjoyable body of work that is more than just a comeback album; it is a declaration of her standing as one of the few artists who are truly propelling R&B music forward.
Standout tracks: ‘Slower’, ‘Scared of Beautiful’, ‘Wish Your Love Away’, ‘Without You’ and ‘What You Need’
Weakest track: ‘Put it Down (Ft. Chris Brown)’
Possible singles: ‘No Such Thing As Too Late’, ‘Let Me Go’, ‘Without You’, ‘Wish Your Love Away’ and ‘What You Need’
The Lava Lizard Rating: 4/5 Stars