In a career that has seen its share of high and lows, Toni Braxton has explored a number of musical avenues. Debuting as a sophisticated R&B chanteuse with a jazzy edge, she transformed into a pop balladeer within her first few years of success. Then, after a brief stint on Broadway, she pursued the world of hip-hop-influenced urban contemporary – without much success.
The Grammy-winning singer finds a nice balance between her adult-oriented fare and youthful leanings on Pulse. The bulk of material is set at a slow to midtempo pace, with several uptempo workouts peppered in for good measure. Most notable upfront is the perky pop-dance confection “Make My Heart,” which has the feistiness of a Christina Aguilera jam and the melodic appeal of a latter-day Destiny’s Child club record. What Braxton has over those ladies, however, is the gift of vocal straightforwardness. No elaborate histrionics are necessary.
Ballad-wise, Pulse’s standout moments come toward the end of the set. The unassuming lyrics and arrangement of “Why Won’t You Love Me” and the Michael Warren-produced “No Way” both give Braxton room to spread her lush tones and nuances in the classic way her fans have been missing. Furthermore, the plaintive “Yesterday” is notable for its juxtaposition of poetically steered verses against a very contemporary melody. Although the single was promoted as a duet with Trey Songz, the album contains Toni’s solo version (which ultimately works better).
Pulse may not be up to the minute in production style, but its focus is on music first – not the trend of the moment. In an age where “get it now” means more than emotional depth, it’s reassuring that Braxton and Atlantic Records have taken the high road.