It may have been five years between albums for Toni Braxton, but as her latest album, Pulse (released in the U.S. on May 4, 2010) shows, Toni definitely didn't use her time away from the spotlight to reinvent herself. The good news for her fans is that she's still the singer she was before her hiatus: her voice is still thick & throaty and she still has the same mature, sophisticated quality to her vocals. The bad news however, is also that she's still the exact same singer she was five years ago. The world of R&B has evolved significantly since 2005; it's unfortunate that Toni's music hasn't evolved with it.
Pulse represents exactly what people have come to expect from Toni Braxton: mid-tempo ballads about the ups and downs of love and relationships. Tracks like "Hero," where Toni gushes about a man who rescues her from a life without love; and the soaring title track, about sticking with a lover and not giving up on them during tough times, are typical of the songs here. A couple of musical curveballs are thrown the listeners' way via the songs "Make My Heart," and "Lookin' at Me," two surprisingly upbeat and fun dance songs that are a welcome change from the album's other nine melodramatic ballads.
Arguably the best song on Pulse is the passionately bitter break-up song "Yesterday," but interestingly, the better of two versions of the song isn't included on the album's standard version. There's a solo version by Toni that kicks off the album, but a version of the song that features crooner Trey Songz is only included as a bonus track on the iTunes deluxe edition of the album. It's a shame really, since Trey's vocal style matches perfectly with Toni's on the duet.
Overall, if you're not and never have been a Toni fan, this album's probably not for you, since no new ground is broken, no significant risks are taken and the album as a whole is doesn't really have any must-hear tracks. However if you've liked or loved Toni's work in the past, you'll probably feel the same way about Pulse, since it's very much in tune with her 1990s work, and she's proven that even after half a decade away, she can still sing strongly and passionately.