Monday, May 24, 2010

Toni Braxton: "Yesterday"

Toni Braxton and I go back in time, to her first solo hit, “Love Shoulda Brought You Home" in 1992, which I adored, during the heyday of producers L.A. and Babyface. The hits then came on like a tidal wave, propelling Braxton to mass appeal: “Another Sad Love Song,” “Breathe Again,” “You Mean the World To Me” and of course, her No. 1 Diane Warren-penned “Un-Break My Heart” in 1996, which won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal in 1997.

Ironically, that marked the chart peak for Braxton, though she has thankfully kept her followers satiated with new recordings. Her latest album “Pulse,” released on Atlantic Records May 4, includes “Yesterday,” the best song Toni has released in a decade.

On first listen, one would swear the track is a Ryan Tepper production, a la Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” but in fact, “Yesterday” was first released eight months ago as a midtempo R&B sizzler (it peaked at No. 12 on the R&B Singles chart), framed as a duet with Trey Songz. In the U.K., however, his distracting vocal was stripped and now, for the U.S. album release, it remains solo, along with a production overhaul, amping percussion and tempo, and a more mainstream pop persona. It was the right decision.

“Yesterday” offers a total Toni Braxton career perspective in the course of 4 minutes. Sensual and saucy, it celebrates her wondrous range, soaring to the heavens, alongside velvety layers of harmony—even offering her trademark “whoo!” The chorus is a jubilee of anthemic triumph, while the updated production embraces her assertive vocal with just enough grit to remind us that our diva is one sexy creature.

And boy, that’s made all the more clear in the =new= music video for “Yesterday.” This bitch is 41?! Wait until you see her… never looked better. Never sounded better. “Yesterday,” to date, is my favorite song of 2010. (Better to click above; my format clips the vid.)

BEHIND THE MUSIC: I wrote about Toni Braxton for Billboard in October 2002, and she was so very charming—and pregnant. It was one of those phoners that felt more like a conversation than an interview.

I wrote, "Toni Braxton is pretty much surviving on crackers and soda water these days. Bad case of nerves preparing for her fifth album release? Hardly. It’s called the first trimester.
“I should be fine in a few weeks, but right now, this is kicking my behind,” Braxton admits of her second pregnancy. “I’m eating like a parrot.” By all indications, however, the delivery of her other baby—"More Than a Woman" on Arista Nov. 19—should be much less of an ordeal…

I was able to coop the article into a cover story for New York gay rag Next... doubling the pleasure...

Then, a couple weeks after the interview ran, I was surprised to receive a package from Braxton, with a handwritten note thanking me for a good time, along with a silver keychain from Tiffany. That's a class act.

We met years later, where I was at last able to thank her in person. I was stunned at how tiny this lady is, with her great big voice.