3 R&B and pop divas stick to styles that work on new albums

3 R&B and pop divas stick to styles that work on new albums

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Toni Braxton

Sex & Cigarettes

Def Jam Recordings

The latest release from singer, actor and reality-television personality Braxton is barely over 30 minutes long and only features eight tracks, but solidly makes the case for quality over quantity.

Braxton is as focused and as intense as she has ever been on this album, radiating power, vulnerability and resolve in equal measure throughout. Things start off with the laidback, acoustic guitar- and string-driven track “Deadwood,” which lays the groundwork for her vocal harmonies to hypnotize the listener. Then Braxton digs deeper and channels heartbreak on the level of Adele and Mary J. Blige, giving them some stiff competition. On the sparser, piano-driven tracks such as the title track, “Sorry” and “FOH,” Braxton doesn’t mince words about how she’s feeling and, if the title of the latter doesn’t give you a hint, drops some f-bombs along the way. 

Aside from a couple of grown and sexy dance grooves such as “Long As I Live” and the more feel-good club-oriented “Missin,’” this isn’t a party album. But if heartbreak, sorrow and drama inspire this level of performance and songwriting, we owe every guy who did Toni wrong in the last few years a huge thanks.        

Lisa Stansfield


Ear Music

Acclaimed English singer Stansfield stays in her lane on her latest album, “Deeper,” where she continues to blend soulful R&B vocals with synthetic electronica production values that were all the rage with every dance artist in the early to mid-’90s.

That “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality serves her well on tracks such as “Twisted,” which percolates with an upbeat and swinging Motown vibe. The retro vibe also does some justice to tracks such as “Coming Up for Air” and “Love of My Live,” which both benefit from seductive, bass-heavy, trip-hop grooves.

When things speed up, that throwback vibe really starts to feel less and less comfortable. Anthemic dance-floor numbers like “Never Ever” and “Everything” have their hearts in the right place but still feel as dated as an ice-cold bottle of Zima, making you hope and pray that the DJ will break out some Deee-Lite or Black Box.

Stansfield does make a nod to more modern styles on the album closer, “Just Can’t Help Myself,” with frenetic drum-machine beats peppering what otherwise would be a mournful torch song. It’s a solid effort that showcases the timeless quality of Stansfield’s voice.

“Deeper” gives longtime fans what they are expecting from an artist of Stansfield’s caliber: a deep appreciation for the styles that came before while at least keeping some attention focused on the future.   

Kim Wilde

Here Come the Aliens

Ear Music

Wilde returns with her first album in five years, which is overflowing with a shiny new batch of electro-pop rockers. The album cover might scream classic B-movie creature feature, but the sound is all glossy crunchy modern ear candy.

The new-wave and pop rocker has always done a lot of stylistic borrowing and sonic co-opting along the course of her long career, and this album is no exception. Wilde runs the punkish cyber-rock gauntlet she helped to popularize back in the early ’80s so there’s no shame in her diving into the vibe of slick modern-sound groups such as The Killers, Garbage and Goldfrapp on swaggering, fun and infectious tracks such as “Stereo Shot,” “Kandy Krush” and “1969.”

Wilde also manages to pull at the heartstrings, showing off her range with epic rock ballad “Solstice,” and then turning up the drama on the gothic grandeur of “Cyber.Nation.War.” 

“Here Comes The Aliens” is just another example of classic pop stars holding their own, at least in the realm of sounds and energy, among younger and more fawned-over counterparts. If P!nk, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga frequent your playlists, you might want to check out the latest from an artist who helped to create the blueprint for their success.

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