Babyface • Return of the Tender Lover • Def Jam • Release Date: 12.4.15
Babyface is an iconic name in the music industry – he’s quite the producer, singer and songwriter. Return of the Tender Lover marks Babyface’s first solo album of originals in 10 years. He hasn’t been quiet during his hiatus – he dropped a covers album (Playlist, 2007) as well as a Grammy-winning duets album with Toni Braxton (Love, Marriage & Divorce, 2014), not to mention his production and songwriting contributions. Still, 10 years without a new solo album is a long time, but Return of the Tender Lover proves it’s was well worth the wait.
Does Babyface tweak his adult contemporary R&B style? No – he remains true to himself and this bodes well. Had Babyface tried to embrace the modern R&B, it probably wouldn’t have been a fit. Babyface knows his lane and he stays there, hence why this old school, slickly produced set is effective by all means.
“We’ve Got Love” sounds classic from the jump – specifically that saxophone which was one of the signature sounds of adult contemporary R&B in the 80s and 90s. In regards to the songwriting itself, it’s memorable and positive. Give Babyface credit for another rarity these days – the key change. In an age where the complexity of music has diminished to some degree, hearing a key change or a non-traditional harmonic progression is refreshing.
Perhaps the title and theme of “Fight For Love” is cliché, but artistically, Babyface sells it without a hitch. Whether it’s a song that ultimately stands the test of time seems unlikely, but it definitely works for Babyface. Standout “Exceptional” plays silky smooth, again not reinventing the wheel, but finding the veteran flex his muscles.
“Walking on Air” represents Babyface’s idea of feel-good fun. While not quite as proficient as opener “We’ve Got Love,” the El DeBarge featured joint is sound and ultimately enjoyable. Follow-up “I Want You” is self-explanatory – he wants her and needs her badly! Again perhaps it’s a platitudinous, but Babyface manages it exceptionally.
“Love And Devotion” is what it is – simply a beautiful, chivalrous, and lush ballad. Vocally, this is one of the most pure performances from Babyface. The vocal arrangement itself with the background vocals is among the crème de la crème of Return of the Tender Lover. The chivalry continues on “Standing Ovation,” where Babyface is “fascinated on the daily/ how you do the things you do…” The album closes with “Something Bout You” which picks up the pace and reminisces back to the 80s, and “Our Love,” another thoughtful, chivalrous ballad.
Overall, Return of the Tender Lover is fine adult contemporary R&B album. All nine tracks are consistent, even if there are a select few that stand taller the rest. Again, those accustomed to Babyface’s signature style will see that he’s done nothing to change the formula, a pro considering the type of artist he is. Is it the most thrilling R&B album of the year? No, but overall there’s little to complain about.
Favorites: “We’ve Got Love,” “Exceptional,” “Love and Devotion” and “Something Bout You”