After her previous album, 2008's Human
, failed to make much on an impact on the charts, it seemed like Brandy
's music career might be headed on a downward slope. After all, she'd been a music star since the mid-1990s and many artists from that same era had long since faded away. But on her sixth studio album, Two Eleven
, Ms. Norwood manages to reaffirm her status as a relevant contemporary R&B-pop performer. Two Eleven
which will be released in the U.S. Oct. 16, 2012, is an upbeat, optimistic, slickly produced collection of songs that manage to update Bran's sound for the modern day but also retain enough of her core essence to remind people why they became fans of her in the first place.
From the time of her self-titled debut album dropped in 1994 to 2008's Human
, the one produced that had the biggest input into Brandy
's sound had been Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. Over the course of that 14 years, he produced or co-produced eight of her singles, including "What About Us" and "The Boy is Mine," Bran's duet with Monica
. He even produced two singles by Brandy's younger brother, the singer Ray J., including Ray's first top five hit, "One Wish." But "Darkchild" is nowhere to be found on Two Eleven
, replaced by a cornucopia of collaborators. Nearly each song on the album has multiple writers and producers; for example, Dwayne "Dem Jointz" Abernathy, Bangladesh and Sean Garrett all helped write and co-produce the album's first single, "Put It Down;" and Frank Ocean
, Warryn Campbell and Prescott, co-wrote and co-produced the ballad "Scared of Beautiful." That said, the large number of collaborators doesn't result in the album have an assembly-line feel thanks to the strong presence of the singer. Brandy's consistency and strong personality make this an album that sounds like she's completely in charge all the way through. Even when she steps out of her musical lane on "Put It Down,"
an uptempo track that sounds like it might have been originally meant for a woman 10 years or so younger than the 33-year-old Brandy, she manages to make the track her own and sounds completely comfortable on the chart-topping song.
Strong and Vulnerable
One of the album's highlights is "Wildest Dreams,"
which was written by Sean "The Pen" Garrett and produced by Grammy-winning duo Tha Bizness. The mid-tempo track, which is about finding a love that's better any anything you could have ever dreamed about, manages to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time, something that could also be said about the album as a whole. Two Eleven
, which is named after Brandy's birthday and the day Whitney Houston
died, February 11, is a vivid portrait of a modern woman and all her complexities. From the Whitney-esque rocky relationship song "So Sick" to the burgeoning relationship song "No Such Thing As Too Late," to the tenderly sexual "Paint This House," Brandy shows that even though she might have the vocal firepower of other top-tier divas like Mary J. Blige
, can move listeners in more subtle ways.
Overall, this is a fine addition to Brandy's catalog of albums. Over the course of her career, Brandy's managed to grow as a performer and artist, and this album's a good example of that growth. If there's a complaint to be made, it's that two of the album's better songs, "Can You Hear Me Now?" and "What You Need," both of which are sexually oriented, can only be found on the deluxe edition. Maybe Bran or her label thought they might be a little too steamy for some audiences, but not only is neither track is close to being explicit, they actually help enhance the album as a whole.