Sex & Cigarettes – Toni Braxton (2018)

2018 saw Toni Braxton release her 8th studio album (9th overall if you count the album with Babyface from 2014). Her last effort “Pulse” from 2010 was a very solid piece of work which I enjoyed immensely especially tracks such as “Yesterday” and “Hands Tied”.

Considering what Braxton was achieving in the mid 90’s there is very little talk or fan fare about her and her music. There was a point where it was Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton (with Whitney Houston at the top of the pyramid obviously). But whilst Braxton would sell millions of records and receive Grammy’s for performances on tracks like “Un-Break My Heart” a string of poor financial decisions left her bankrupt at one point.

On this latest effort Braxton sticks to what she is best at – singing about love and heartbreak. Her distinctive and emotionally laden vocal allows her to easily convey feelings to the listener with some ease.

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This project is only 30 minutes long which is very short for any modern day album and sets the task of making it all killer and no filler. Failure to do this ultimately turns any enjoyable listen into just an EP like effort.

This is certainly not a perfect album but does have some high points with the opener “Deadwood” being one of them. The acoustic guitar backing I didn’t expect as Braxton is known more for big production especially in the early 2000’s with the likes of Darkchild and the Neptunes producing some big hits for her.

On “Deadwood” she sounds in wonderful form and the lyrics show a defiant protagonist who is pointing out to the man that has left her that she may be down, but she is not out.

It is a theme that has been done many times before but I believe Braxton really nails it with her delivery and understand of how to flow through a melody. The moody delivery in the verses tell the story well and the chorus allows her exercise other faucets of her vocal.

On the title track “Sex & Cigarettes” things get very dramatic. The song is a piano ballad and is quite low key in it’s production and delivery. The story Braxton tells is convincing as she sings about being in a relationship that the other person seems to have vacated as they are cheating with such brashness with Braxton even saying “At least try to lie to me” but instead they continue to come straight to their bed smelling of “Sex & Cigarettes”.

This song isn’t going to be for everyone as it’s a little over the top with it’s anguish and pain. But it’s hard to deny just how good Toni Braxton is at delivering this type of song.

The third track is “Long As I Live” which is the song I had been hearing before this album was released. This track is absolutely wonderful and as good as any song Toni Braxton has ever released in a career which has been active sing 1993.

If I have many better songs than “Long As I Live” by the end of 2018 I will be delighted as it would have been a phenomenal year.

Braxton sounds so good on this song and delivers this heartbreaking track in such a mesmerizing way. The song sees Braxton talk directly to her ex and how she is hearing about how ‘great’ his new woman is. In this first verse she points out that she still has feelings for him despite her anger at him moving on.

It’s the second verse that really hits home as she realises how much he likes this new person and that the look he is giving her is one she remembers. It’s such a emotional delivery with the pacing of her words over a mid tempo beat just had me nodding my head. Perfect.

“FOH” is way wide of the mark though. It stands for “Fuck Outta Here” as it tries the formula used on the title track with a piano being the main instrument. This song is just stuffy and and the use of the profanity is just forced and unnecessary.

“Sorry” is richer in its production though the bassline sounds like a slower “I Can’t Go For That” by Hall & Oats. Whilst not an instantly memorable track, on frequent listens it starts to grow. Braxton is often given songs with similar lyrical content but that is because she knows how to connect with them. What I like about her delivery is that there is a fragility in her voice when she is saying things like “Sorry that I met you” that give the impression that she really means the opposite of what she is saying and this is cautiously deliberate.

The ultimate saccharine ballad is “My Heart”. Just no no no. Some may say this some sort of ‘beautiful’ track but not for me. God this is crap. It’s too forced and over the top. Essentially it’s about being in a relationship with someone and whilst you can do everything with them you can’t give them your heart. Okay i’m off to vomit.

Just as long as we don’t get a Spanish guitar solo… oh crap there it is.

“Coping” for the best part of two minutes is much the same as the title track but a more uptempo beat kicks in to make it at least a little bit different. This sees Braxton again in broken woman mode but unlike some of the other tracks she doesn’t try to show any defiance and basically just lays it all out there that she is shattered by the loss of this person.

The final track “Missing” is a jolt to the system with it’s very contemporary club dance production. I don’t think Braxton sounds very unique on this song and it probably could have been sung by a plethora of female vocalists and you wouldn’t have lost much.

Still this is a decent track and I the hook is catchy and the bigger production is a nice (albeit out of place) addition on the set.

 

Eight tracks, thirty minutes of music and we are done. It does feel very short and with a number of tracks sounding so similar I don’t come away believing I’ve listened even to eight songs. The opening three tracks are very strong and “Long As I Live” is surely in the top 10 R&B songs of the last 10 years.

It’s a concept album so the theme was always going to be the same but that doesn’t mean it is enjoyable listening to the same lyrical content all the way through. I like the vulnerability in her vocal but it’s nothing to move this genre of music forward and overall it is just a nice addition to the Toni Braxton discography but certainly no better than what I consider her best album “Libra” from 2005.

 

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