Love conquers nothing in the songs of Toni Braxton. Again, on the sultry singer’s third album, hearts break as easily, and as often, as eggs. Men lie, walk out, withhold, or, at best, tell Braxton they don’t deserve her.
No wonder she stands as the torch song queen of current R&B. The defeated focus of Braxton’s approach not only suits her drowsy, amber voice, it also gives her a distinct point of view in the diva field. While Mariah and Whitney use their most bloated ballads to idealize love, Braxton seldom turns so sunny. Neither does she play younger than she is, eschewing the money-grubbing put-down songs so popular with newer girl groups like Destiny’s Child and 702.
Braxton’s work likewise counters the reigning male voices of adult R&B. Singers like Brian McKnight and Gerald Levert most often serenade successful love, rarely seeing Braxton’s lonely side. If the singer retains her basic point of view on The Heat, she has done some updating as well. The album’s first single, ”He Wasn’t Man Enough,” makes savvy use of the hottest R&B writer-producer of the moment, Rodney Jerkins. It’s faster than Braxton’s usual fare, featuring Jerkins’ taut beats and harp, not to mention his lyrical flair for plot. Here Braxton warns a female friend not to marry a man the singer knows all too well.
Other songs put a broad new distance between the beats, letting Braxton dart energetically between the notes. In ”Fairy Tale” she tries out a Babyface-style acoustic piece, while ”The Art of Love” lets her play Barry White, luxuriating orgasmically over undulating rhythms. Sometimes the music reflects the lyrics’ theme in smart ways. The speedy rhythms of ”Speaking in Tongues” reflect the character’s neurotic thinking. Braxton’s intonations in ”Never Just for a Ring” mimic the cadence of pleading. Like everything on ”The Heat,” it’s tasteful, well-performed, and — best of all — consistent stuff, throwing the lovelorn a reliable lifeline.