Lost In Music is a new column at So So Gay that made its début last week, with the aim of bringing our readers overlooked slices of musical brilliance, be they by obscure artists, or simply albums that were commercial or critical failures that we feel warrant another look. Today's column is by Elliot Robinson.
Human is the most recent solo effort from American R&B singer Brandy, and was originally released back in 2008. With the world of R&B dominated by a certain Beyoncé Knowles, the lower rankings are an ongoing battle between numerous artists. As a personal favourite, I feel Brandy is often sadly overlooked by the UK, and probably thought by many to be a sort of one-hit wonder, never matching the international success she achieved back in 1998 with the Monica duet, 'The Boy is Mine'. The single was taken from Brandy's second album, Never Say Never, and was the first time she worked with prolific songwriter and producer, Rodney 'Darkchild' Jerkins. Thus was born a decade-long team as singer and producer, with a brief detour by Brandy to work with Timbaland on her fourth studio album, Afrodisiac.
What makes this musical pairing particularly pleasing is that they complement each other incredibly well. Darkchild seems to be a songwriter first and producer second, with a clear ear for a beautiful melody, unlike other producers, such as Timbaland, who seem more preoccupied with the bassline and percussion. When you combine Darkchild's knack for writing a killer R&B number with the criminally underrated vocal talent of Brandy, then you have a recipe for excellence. Thanks to the naturally raspy quality in her voice, Brandy's vocals are always full of texture, particularly coming to life when they are duplicated to produce multi-layer harmonies on a song. Furthermore, she is phenomenal when singing live, effortlessly replicating the studio vocals and even improving them by introducing new harmony variations.
In addition to the obvious disappoint of Human being an unsuccessful album, it is also slightly surprising given that lead single, 'Right Here (Departed)' (below), was very much a success for Brandy, being her biggest hit across Europe for many years. Unfortunately the popularity of the single failed to translate into significant album sales, and back in the US, Human was her worst charting album since her self-titled début, released in 1994. With the commercial failure of Human, Brandy and Darkchild appear to have since fallen out, both distancing themselves from the album, stating their apparent dissatisfaction with the project. However, the poor performance of this album is most definitely unwarranted.
Aside from the excellent lead single, 'Right Here (Departed)', Brandy's fifth studio album is overflowing with superb R&B tracks, not to mention a number of talents contributing material that ought to have garnered more attention for the album. Brandy herself has a handful of co-writes, and Darkchild as usual wrote around half of the tracks. Additionally, Bruno Mars had a hand in the second and last single from Human, a track called 'Long Distance' – a beautiful ballad about the travails of a long-distance relationship, set over a simple piano-led instrumental. Brandy movingly coos 'There's only so many songs / That I can sing to pass the time / And I'm runnin' out of things / To do to get you off my mind', which ultimately leads to a soaring vocal crescendo.
Elsewhere, Lady Gaga's partner in crime, RedOne, teams up with Claude Kelly (who has had a hand in massive hits for the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, and Jessie J, to name a few) to write another stunning ballad that appears in the middle of the album, simply entitled 'True'. The song finds Brandy pleading a lover to let her know that her love for him is reciprocated. Her vocal performance on this track is wonderful, showing off her range particularly well, and also just how absurdly in control of her instrument Brandy is, as she navigates key changes and notes falling all over the scale – a joy from start to finish and a definite album highlight.
Fellow Brit, Natasha Bedingfield helps out on the closing track to the standard version of the album, 'Fall', also one of Brandy's co-write credits. Like many of Brandy's songs, the tone is generally romantic and opens with Brandy stating how she 'wants to lose herself in love'. The chorus is very catchy, more so because of the chant-like repetition of the word 'Fall' behind the main lyrics.
I have deliberately chosen the deluxe, 20-track edition of Human rather than the standard, 15-track version, because in addition to two solid remixes of 'Right Here (Departed)', an admittedly rather pointless a cappella version of 'Long Distance' (though it does once again highlight the calibre of Brandy's vocal prowess), the deluxe edition contains two superb bonus tracks. The first being 'Gonna Find My Love' - another album highlight, what with its rich production, energetic vocal driven by a dominant beat and even a spot of rapping from Brandy. The second is 'Locket (Locked in Love)', a more subdued, yet still mid-tempo number, which has a melodic and rousing vocal.
Suffice to say - and to stop me singing the praises of every single track here - Brandy's fifth studio album deserved to sell far better, as it's an absolute, 74-minute, R&B masterpiece. It is unfortunate then that, likely due to the poor sales figures, Brandy parted ways with Epic Records after the release of Human. Thankfully though, the singer has since signed to RCA Records, with her sixth studio album, Two Eleven, scheduled for release in mid-October this year. This album will include her new duet with Monica, 'It All Belongs To Me', and her most recent single, 'Put It Down'.