Brandy could have released another adult contemporary-oriented set, or linked with the dance-pop producers who have boosted many of her fellow artists. Instead, she made a modern R&B album. Even Two Eleven's most upbeat and commercial song, "Put It Down" -- a blocky, bass-heavy number featuring Chris Brown and production from Bangladesh and Sean Garrett -- was aimed more at urban radio than mainstream Top 40 stations.
There’s a good reason Brandy’s most recent single — the frenetic ”Put It Down,” featuring Chris Brown — only hit No. 76 on the Billboard Hot 100: It’s one of the weakest offerings from an otherwise well-crafted for-the-fans album. Ignore what’s pushed to pop radio. Brandy scores when her raspy-sweet voice soars during ballads and slow jams, and that’s what stands out on this intimate, often ethereal collection, Two Eleven, which sputters only when she fires up the vocoder.
Since she admitted, “This game ain’t what I’m used to,” on 2004’s Afrodisiac, Brandy has carried herself like an artist both accustomed to and embittered by her underdog status. But despite the strong sales she enjoyed with her first three albums, she’s actually always seemed like a minor-league star, unequipped to compete with the dominant stylistic trends that fueled R&B’s consistent pop-chart presence throughout the ‘90s. Lacking the range and power of a vocal athlete like Mariah Carey, the hip-hop confessionalism of Mary J.
It’s been 18 years since Brandy came to our CD collections as an ingenue with her first single “I Want To Be Down” – and it’s been a long road since then that involves motherhood, separation, car accidents, botched record deals, and a few hit singles here and there. Upon her debut she followed Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number release and some comparisons. Her innocent image reigned through and allowed her follow-up, Never Say Never, to be a contemporary success by intertwining promotion and exposure of her UPN show “Moesha” and made-for-TV movie with Diana Ross “Double Platinum.
R&B stalwart Brandy branches out on her sixth album, trading her go-to collaborator, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, for newer producers who've been reinvigorating the careers of her major-label contemporaries with sinister, spacey singles. The result puts her signature husky vocal histrionics to work on a mixed bag of darkly atmospheric mid-tempo tunes and ballads. The best of the bunch are Wildest Dreams, produced by Sean Garrett and the Bizness, who give some propulsive oomph to Brandy's snappy old-school sass, the stop-start So Sick, which slickly alternates between skittery and spacious, and Put It Down, a decent banger if you can swallow the Chris Brown cameo.
Now nearly two decades into her career, Brandy delivers one of her better sets with these songs tracking love’s mysterious ways. The singer/actress has never possessed the boldest voice, but she knows how to connect to the emotional core of a lyric. Thankfully she’s working with some good songs and excellent producers (including Rico Love and Jim Jonsin).