It’s been 18 years since Brandy came to our CD collections as an ingenue with her first single “I Want To Be Down” – and it’s been a long road since then that involves motherhood, separation, car accidents, botched record deals, and a few hit singles here and there. Upon her debut she followed Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number release and some comparisons. Her innocent image reigned through and allowed her follow-up, Never Say Never, to be a contemporary success by intertwining promotion and exposure of her UPN show “Moesha” and made-for-TV movie with Diana Ross “Double Platinum.” Her third, fourth, and fifth album didn’t make the splash as its predecessors and it took Brandy down a road of actively pursuing a new sound that would inspire her. Let’s not forget her brief stint with Timbaland and her rap alter-ego Bra’Nu.
Brandy’s latest album Two Eleven lets one consistent beauty shine: her voice. There’s also a clear return to the R&B groove that beautifully suits her husky voice, unlike her pop-centered previous album Human. “Slower” produced by Switch and co-written by Chris Brown shows a foot-forward in Brandy’s slow-groove vocals with Switch’s gritty production. Among some of the best collaborations, there’s the Frank Ocean penned track “Scared of Beautiful” – originally supposed to be a duet with Ocean that never came to fruition.
Measuring the album by the choice of singles is the wrong way to go. “Put It Down” however successful (it is Brandy’s first Top Ten R&B single in 10 years) doesn’t capture any melody Brandy would with her voice. Even the “Put It Down” video conjures up memories of Ashanti’s 2004 “Only U” video where she began to attack hard choreography in a post-Beyoncé R&B world, where female R&B artists began to walk ground they weren’t equipped to walk. The second single, “Wildest Dreams” while working best as the album’s track opener, doesn’t really highlight the exciting vocal fortitude shown in “No Such Thing As Too Late,” “Without You,” and “Wish Your Love Away” – all stellar tracks and possible radio singles.
It’s a little difficult to tie a Brandy album to her personal life considering she only wrote on 3 of the 17 tracks (deluxe edition). Still, she wants us to believe that this an incredibly personal album in content. Naming it Two Eleven, after the date of her birth (and the date of Whitney Houston’s death), gives us an indication that she’s about to bare soul in a way we’ve never heard before – she doesn’t. Two Eleven, while a well-crafted and produced album, falls short by comeback standards and considering it took 3 years to make, fans were definitely rooting for this to be triumphant.