It’s curious how, with Christmas approaching, the R&B and rap big guns get out the heavy armoury and release their new long players. Yet the return of Brandy is of particular interest, with the spectre of a 2006 California car accident still hanging over her in the form of civil action.
Recent interviews have found the singer telling how it has completely changed her life, and it’s not long into Human before feelings run deeper than anything she’s previously sung. You can certainly hold off with that pigeon hole as well, for it doesn’t take long to realise this is not your average, slushy fodder. Brandy’s singing has real depth and emotion, a lack of the drama queen and a willingness to renounce vocal histrionics.
This means the listener actually concentrates more on the subject matter to hand, and in Piano Man that topic is heartbreak. “Play me a song about heartache, I promise I could sing every word,” she sings – from the bottom of her heart. It’s a striking pay-off to the album’s more upbeat tracks, which up the tempo a little to a loping disco beat in a similar manner to Alicia Keys‘ recent work.
While the lyrics are bound to be scrutinised for any nod in the direction of the car accident, they do in fact reveal more depth to the songs written for Brandy. Reunited with her initial songwriter for the majority of the songs, Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins, there’s less reliance on studio polish and more on genuine emotion, with more rhythmic impetus written in too.
Guest writers do appear, and of most interest is Natasha Bedingfield‘s co-written Fall, the album’s closing track. A flighty piano verse gives way to a chorus of understated power, though the production does feel overdone as Brandy reaches for the big chorus. Inevitably there are the more indulgent ballad moments, and True is one of these, but by and large the edge cultivated in the faster tracks carries through.
“What I feel being a human being is having the freedom to be yourself, not caring what other people think” goes the Janet Jackson-style intro to this album, scripted to sound as natural as possible. In succeeding for much of Human, Brandy makes a committed and surprisingly emotive return.