Review: Toni Braxton & Babyface, ‘Love Marriage & Divorce’


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Toni Braxton and Babyface make some sweet, classy music on Love Marriage & Divorce 

Toni Braxton & Babyface • Love Marriage & Divorce • Motown • US Release Date: February 4, 2014

Toni Braxton-20140128-29There’s just something special when two R&B veterans collaborate together.  Honestly, when your career has past its peak, why not come together and try to rekindle the magic – after all, isn’t two better than one? Adult contemporary R&B artists Toni Braxton and Babyface definitely have a special thing going on with their collaborative album, Love Marriage & Divorce.  Both are past their prime as R&B ‘royalty’ (Babyface still relatively popular as a producer and songwriter), but on this classy effort, both offer nothing short of their best vocally.  Love Marriage & Divorce isn’t ‘new’ in the ‘fresh’ sense, but Braxton and Babyface definitely flex their seasoned R&B muscles, which may be more relevant at this point.   And innovation aside, many can at least relate to one of the three words of the title, right? Right!

Roller Coaster” opens Love Marriage & Divorce, setting the adult contemporary R&B tone.  The production is pleasant, without being overdone in the least.  Babyface leads the charge on the verses, with Braxton completing them (think pre-chorus).  The memorable refrain unifies the standout: “When love is like a roller coaster / always up and down / when love takes over / your emotion spins you ‘round and ‘round…when love is like a roller coaster.” Ultimately, Braxton and Babyface end up being a perfect match for one another, sporting sound vocal chemistry.

Sweat” proceeds, featuring conservative production work that is refined; the sound is smooth and nothing too flashy.  Again, Babyface initiates the vocals, while Braxton settles for the back half of the verses and drives the refrain home.  “Sweat” is as close as the duo gets to ‘sex’, masking its sensuality through suggestiveness in the ‘grown-folks’ style.  This classy approach is appreciated and a departure in contemporary music, something many younger artists could benefit from  – subtlety.  Little feels risqué with the duo handling lyrics like “So if you really wanna fight / we could take it to the bed tonight (let’s sweat it out) / and if you really wanna scream, I can make you scream tonight (let’s sweat it out)”.  Perhaps if R. Kelly were performing it, well that would be a different matter completely.  Not as notable as the opener, “Sweat” isn’t too shabby either.

Hurt You” benefits from its pacing, taking its time to settle in.  In other words, the second verse is more developed than the first musically, which eliminates predictability, had “Hurt You” revealed all the cards early. The alternating vocals on the refrain are a nice touch from the duo, giving “Hurt You” more personality and oomph.  As far as songwriting, “Hurt You” is one of the very best.  The bridge exemplifies this sentiment: “Can we start over again / can we start baby as friends / give you one more try / the tender kisses you give to me/ would be the only thing I ever need”.  “Where Did We Go Wrong?” follows “Hurt You, proving to be equally notable. The clarity of vocals from both artists is stunningly beautiful.  Babyface’s falsetto sounds as pure as ever. He sounds as if he’s not aged a bit.  Like everything else, “Where Did We Go Wrong?” is smooth and refined.

Kenneth Babyface Edmonds Toni Braxton-JOG-001518Babyface and Toni Braxton each take a solo track following “Where Did We Go Wrong?”.  Both are well done in their own right, if not necessarily standouts.  “I Hope You’re Okay” is Babyface’s sole solo track, with the legendary R&B singer/songwriter sounding incredibly positive and chivalrous on the mid-tempo cut.  Babyface’s light  and agile vocals are perfectly suited for such a cut.  On “I Wish”, the sound contrasts, with Braxton wishing for her ex to suffer as much if not more than she did at his hands.   The piano accompaniment serves as perfect inspiration for Braxton to ‘tell it like it is.’  Both songs show off the respective strengths of each, though “I Hope That You’re Okay” might get the slightest edge over “I Wish”.

Take It Back” finds the duo reconvening. The results are positive once again, though “Take It Back” suffers a bit too much from its sameness.  The sentiment here is that a bit more differentiation could’ve made this particular cut more exciting.  “Reunited” is stronger, a song about reconnecting and rekindling the love.  Braxton drives home the bridge, which leads to a dramatic key change.  By the close, Braxton and Babyface have ‘let loose’, pouring their emotions into this cut.  Braxton takes another solo spot on “I’d Rather Be Broke”, arguably even better than “I Wish”.  Still, Braxton has been shaken up by her love troubles, singing “I’d rather be broke then with you…” Sure it’s simple, but the message that ‘there’s nothing worse than a woman scorned’ is easily conveyed.

Penultimate track “Heart Attack” might be the best of the entire album.  Up-tempo with a mix of adult contemporary R&B and neo-disco, “Heart Attack” is easily the most unique number if nothing more.  It certainly doesn’t sound ‘old’, an argument that could be posed in regards to some of the Kenneth Edmonds Toni Braxton-ZNV-002075other album tracks.  Babyface handles the verses, with Braxton handling the addictive refrain: “You know you want me back / you up here ‘bout to have a heart attack / you know you know you know you want it bad / that’s why you ‘bout to have a heart attack.” “The D Word” can’t match the intensity of “Heart Attack”, but it is an appropriate closer, tackling the divorce aspect of Love Marriage & Divorce.  “I put the papers on your doorstep,” sings Babyface on the first verse. “The keys under the mat / although the lawyer said to mail you / I’m still not over it.”  All about the pain of divorce and losing someone special, “The D Word” puts a cap on a solid album.

All in all, Love Marriage & Divorce is a pleasant R&B album.  It’s not what you might pen as an innovative tour de force, but it is very well done overall.  Vocally, both Braxton and Babyface sound incredible, particularly being past their artistic peaks.  It likely isn’t an album that will appeal to the present generation of R&B listeners who prefer more eclecticism and hip-hop stirred in, but for the traditionalist and ‘grown folks’, Love Marriage & Divorce should be right up their alley.

Favorites:

“Roller Coaster”; “Hurt You”; “Where Did We Go Wrong?”; “Heart Attack”

Verdict: ★★★½  

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