Just between us gurls – can I just say how glad I am that I didn’t review this album when it first leaked last Friday night?
My exclusive Two Eleven listening party of one in bed with a bottle of wine was an experience I’d rather forget. Even as a long time Brandy fan, I found this new album to be her most inaccessible work yet.
Those waiting on the sidelines with baited breath for a second helping of B-Rocka‘s slayfest radio-ready hits like ‘What About Us?’ and ‘Right Here (Departed)’ need to remain seated.
Two Eleven is very much an album designed to be consumed as an entity rather than an incoherent smattering of random styles that buck to familiar flavours of the moment.
Its subversive beauty - and the sole reason why I’m even bothering with this review today – didn’t take long to emerge once you put aside your preconceived notions.
The soundscape we’re traversing here is a slick fusion of futuristic hip hop beats with pure grown ass woman soul. It’s a modern combination that is its own identity, that is tailored to Brandy, and one that puts nothing above her signature vocals and multi-tiered harmonies.
The ice-cool mid tempo ‘Slower’, which was hemmed by M.I.A.‘s producer Switch, is an immediate winner. It’s a Chris Brown contribution that hears B-Rocka swiftly manoeuvre between smooth soulful verses to rapid-fire spoken word rap hooks.
Worshippers of Brandy‘s 2002 opus Full Moon would probably immediately match ‘Slower’ to some of its slicker album tracks like ‘All in Me’ and ‘Anybody’. [Side bar: that album was the soundtrack of my high school years and it remains one of my all time faves.]
Sean Garrett, who has written countless blockbuster hits for Beyoncé, contributes several standouts to Two Eleven - including the current single ‘Wildest Dreams’, a soulful ballad about finally experiencing love that is too good to be true.
“It’s hard to hold back tears whenever you hold me close. I think about the years I spent saying this is all I want. Just wanted someone real to love me for me, me… just Brandy.”
This sentiment and cautious approach to love is a theme firmly threaded through Two Eleven, when it’s done right – the honest lyricism here recalls the greatness of Brandy‘s last critically acclaimed album Afrodisiac.
Elsewhere, ‘No Such Thing As Too Late’ – a nocturnal slow jam penned by Rico Love and Jim Jonsin - hears the 33-year old diva talk about not rushing into something serious. While the pleading ‘Without You’ reveals a woman struggling to overcome trust issues in a new relationship.
“Somewhere along the line I lost my way and I made you pay for the mistakes he made… it’s not fair to take it out on you. I’m done hanging my baggage all over your head.”
Some divisive stylistic risks were taken on Two Eleven that probably would have worked if the songs itself were stronger.
A-list urban producer Bangladesh (who is responsible for bangers like Beyoncé‘s ‘Diva’ and Rihanna‘s ‘Cockiness’) became the swag enabler on the record – pushing Brandy into a new, hip hop intensive direction with ‘Put It Down’ (featuring Chris Brown), which ended up becoming her first US R&B Top 10 hit in over a decade.
Further down, the messy ‘Let Me Go’ – which samples Lykke Li‘s ‘Tonight’ – feels like a poorly executed attempt at being edgy. What with lyrics mentioning about Brandy‘s mum on Twitter? Gurl.
Despite the range of popular and prolific producers masterminding Two Eleven, every track feels like it was designed with a shared vision and with Brandy‘s performance as a priority.
You could not imagine there being another artist in the game right now even coming close to canvassing the complex vocal extravaganza showcased here.
The title Two Eleven is a reference to Brandy‘s birthday (11 February), which she treats as a symbolic reminder of growth with every year, but also – perhaps just as significantly – the date is also a nod to the day her idol and mentor Whitney Houston died this year.
With ‘growth’ being the operative word at every stage of Brandy‘s staggered discography, I honestly hope she doesn’t take another four years to produce another album.
I kinda feel like I’m ready for an anthemic, more uplifting album from Brandy now. Y’know, something like the commercially poo poo-ed Human, but with the musical innovation of this album?
Perhaps something that feels less like it needs to prove a point and just delivers music as an accessible soundtrack to our lives. Because I know next time I get behind the pulpit and preach ‘Brandy‘s back‘, I want to have all ears and eyes in the room.
Brandy‘s Two Eleven hits Australian shelves on Friday 19 October.
The album was launched everywhere else on Monday 15 October and swiftly scaled to #1 on the US iTunes R&B/Soul album chart and #2 on iTunes Top Albums chart.