December 09, 2008|By Rashod D. Ollison


Epic Records, ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)


During her four years off the pop charts, Brandy hasn't been "chilling." The '90s pop sensation, who sold more than 25 million albums worldwide during the decade and starred in her own hit sitcom, has had her share of personal and professional drama.

After her last album, 2004's Afrodisiac, failed to go platinum like her previous three CDs, she left Atlantic Records. She then broke off an engagement, was involved in a car accident in Los Angeles that caused the death of a driver and was signed to Epic Records.

As she faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the husband of the woman driver, Brandy releases Human, her new album in stores today. It's being promoted as a "serious" effort. Brandy clearly isn't the bubbly, slightly gawky performer fans fell for. She turns 30 in February. And in her new music, she essays more emotional depth than she did on her innocuous but well-aged smashes of yesterday such as "Baby" and "I Wanna Be Down."

However, her musical transitional into womanhood, starting with 2002's faceless Full Moon, has been largely limp and toothless. Human does little to reverse that, but it's not really Brandy's fault. She now sings with an attractive frayed edge that suggests resilience and vulnerability. The insipidity of her new music, however, is mostly the fault of her longtime producer, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. He oversaw the bulk of Full Moon, but his style hasn't evolved much since then. Jerkins filters Brandy's voice through robotic arrangements anchored by unimaginative programmed beats and layered with colorless synths.

Lyrically, Brandy vacillates from everybody-love-one-another mid-tempo numbers to run-of-the-mill self-reflective ballads. Though corny, "Warm It Up (With Love)" is catchy and one of the few "high energy" tracks on the 15-cut CD, where adult-contemporary ballads dominate. Although her delivery seems sincere, the songs just aren't compelling enough. But the yearning "Long Distance" manages to stand out.

As Brandy's vocal style continues to mature, it seems she'd be much better off in the company of producers whose approach is much more sympathetic. A little imagination wouldn't hurt either.

Download:: "Warm It Up (With Love)," "Piano Man," "Long Distance"

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