8 long years have passed since award-winning, multi-million selling superstar Toni Braxton released her last solo album Pulse. The last music we heard from the singer was in 2014 when she teamed up with long-time collaborator and friend Babyface for duets album Love, Marriage & Divorce. In the years since the release of Pulse, Braxton has dealt with health issues and reversed a decision to retire from the music industry. Following the release of singles Deadwood and Long As I Live, Braxton has released her much-awaited new solo album Sex & Cigarettes.
From the opening bars of Deadwood, the lead single and opening track, listeners are reminded exactly why Braxton is one of the most iconic singers in the music industry. That husky, sultry tone is every bit as powerful as it ever has been and it’s a real joy to hear her voice on new material. The moody tone of Deadwood is a pretty epic start to the 8-track collection and it serves as a reintroduction to the chart-topping singer. It also sets the tone for a very personal, at times very raw and often bold record, the like of which we’ve never heard from Braxton before.
Title track Sex & Cigarettes, one of the standout moments here, is a stark piano ballad that really puts Braxton’s voice in the spotlight. She sings of a lover cheating on her and questions his feelings towards her. ‘You act like you hate me, hate me’ she growls angrily as the song builds to its pain-fuelled chorus. Braxton doesn’t need bells and whistles to get her point across and the song is among her finest work.
Current single Long As I Live is up next and it introduces a more uptempo feel. The gentle groove is punctuated by a strong beat and it’s classic Braxton. Imagine You’re Makin’ Me High sung by a woman with more life experience and Long As I Live is what you’d get. Braxton moves between hushed whispers and powerful belts, utilising the full spectrum of her remarkable vocal range.
Another highlight on the record comes on the gorgeous Foh (Fuck outta here) where Braxton takes a lover to task about his seeming lack of commitment. It’s the tale of a woman who’s had enough of being messed about and suspects that her time is being wasted. Like title track Sex & Cigarettes there’s an undertone of anger throughout the song but there’s also an empowering feeling that comes with speaking your mind.
Elsewhere on the album the beats return for the memorable Sorry, Colbie Caillat features on the Latin-tinged My Heart and tropical beats pulse at the centre of the more contemporary Missin’, which closes the record. Coping, which was reviewed via a remix set prior to the album’s release, is another moment where Braxton floors you with her vocal ability and stark honesty.
There isn’t a single dud on Sex & Cigarettes. When I first saw there were only 8 tracks, I was disappointed but after spending some time with the record, it’s easy to see why it’s so short. Sex & Cigarettes tells a story of pain, loss, love and regret and it’s one of the best albums Braxton has recorded over her lengthy career. For the first time it feels like Braxton is truly unfiltered and free, and she’s all the better for it.
Track list: 1. Deadwood 2. Sex & Cigarettes 3. Long As I Live 4. Foh 5. Sorry 6. My Heart (featuring Colbie Caillat) 7. Coping 8. Missin’ Record label: Def Jam Release date: 23rd March 2018