Toni Braxton debuted as a solo artist with her self-titled album in 1993, and as one of the main La Face soul divas, she became an R&B superstar immediately, and then got even bigger with the Diane Warren-written ballad “Un-Break My Heart”. She continued her international success, winning several Grammy Awards along the way, until beginning of 00s.
Toni released three albums More Than a Woman (2002), Libra (2005) and Pulse (2010), which were just average comparing to her previous works. She re-introduced herself on Love, Marriage & Divorce, a duet album with Babyface, which earned her another Grammy Award. And it seems with her brand new longplay titled Sex & Cigarettes that she hasn’t had the last word yet.
Braxton said in one of her recent interviews, “I feel like Im older, I wanna say what I feel. I don’t wanna be censored“. Is this a reason why we get the hottest album cover of her whole discography yet?
If you’re 25 years in the music industry and you still can bring the heat… Damn, Birdman, you’re lucky man. However, I’m not sure if he appreciates Toni as a girlfriend (fiancee? wife? There’re a lot of rumours around their relationship) because she’s singing on the album, the way you can only sing when you’re heartbroken.
The Sex & Cigarettes album opens with guitar-led track called “Deadwood”. Toni’s beautiful raw vocals shines as ever, while the acoustic melody flows so naturally, and it’s still a solid, radio-friendly track.
The album’s title song is a tear-soaked mid-tempo ballad. “You make me crazy, crazy / I swear you act like you hate me, hate me”, she sings strong with a bit of bitterness in her voice. She might be heartbroken but she’s also unapologetic.
Braxton successfully recaptures the 90s R&B magic in sensual and vintage single “Long As I Live“, one of the best track of the album. “Everybody’s talking about you and her together / How could you do that to me?”, she sings kindly.
Thanks God Toni hasn’t stopped working with Babyface, because the track he produced is the highlight of the Sex & Cigarettes album. “FOH” seems to be a great piano ballad, but the lyrics are the key here. “I just wonder where the hell you could be / Tell me who you think you are, don’t be playing with my heart”, she sings with anger and disappointment.
The verse “F**k outta here” is pretty minimalistic but it’s probably the most savage thing on the album. She reached her breaking point. If Birdman thinks Toni Braxton gives a f**k, he’s surely wrong.
She opens and breaks free more musically in the mid-tempo song called “Sorry“. “I should’ve known from the start, I was bound to lose / But guess instead I kept running, running back to you“, she shares with the world her love regrets.
The only featured artist on the album is an American singer and songwriter from Malibu called Colbie Caillat. She assists Toni on the pure and simple ballad titled “My Heart“, a song that could be easily be recorded by John Legend for example.
The two lasts track of Sex & Cigarettes reminds me of the times Toni released a non-album single “I Heart You” in 2012. “Coping” and “Missin’” are not straight club tracks, but they’re all about dance vibe. That’s the brilliant ending of what is a seemingly short 30-minute longplay.
Toni Braxton’s creation is more familiar with more current material from artists like K. Michelle or Keyshia Cole, rather than Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey, the divas that started their careers almost the same time she debuted. But if the effect is that Braxton has recorded her best album since 2002, we all should be satisfied with her sexy but classy image and sound. And Birdman, you can do better!
Purchase Toni Braxton’s Sex & Cigarettes album on iTunes here, and stream it below.
Words by Julia Borowczyk