Toni Braxton’s position in R&B history was cemented in the mid-1990s with the seminal ballad Un-Break My Heart, but what does she have to bring to the genre now, populated as it is by auto-tuned crooners who are younger than most of her hits? In an attempt to answer this question, her tenth album Spell My Name is a veritable pot luck of styles, some of which work.
Opening number Dance gets proceedings off to a good start with a disco groove and themes of leaving heartbreak behind (“You told me that you’d never hurt me / made me believe I was your only / I don’t really care, I just wanna dance the love away”). Confident piano chords, earworm horn figures and Braxton’s pitch-perfect delivery unite for a triumphant pop tune.
Do It, featuring a Missy Elliott cameo, follows up with some nifty 808 beats and old school R&B piano, while Spell My Name’s titular gimmick pays off in the hook, and O.V.E.Rr.’s delicious production and hypnotic chord sequence decorates a tune about a relationship that just can’t end.
But where the record seriously falters is the couple of more emotional tracks at the end. The logic is understandable: Braxton is known for her ballads, so why not show that she’s still got it? The problem is that these are bland, sub-Adele offerings – Happy Without Me in particular is just a Someone Like You rehash – and there’s something slightly undignified about a former big star becoming just another imitator.
The album is brief, almost EP length, and doesn’t end nearly as well as it begins, but Spell My Name still features some great tunes and is proof that Toni Braxton’s smooth alto can grace a trap instrumental just as well as a Darkchild production or a slow jam.