B7 (released July 31, 2020)
Well, she kept us waiting nearly a decade. But when you think about it, this is the perfect time for the incomparable Brandy Norwood to finally – FINALLY – make her musical comeback.
In a recent interview about the long-awaited release of B7, her first studio LP since the pre-TikTok/pre-Doordash/pre-COVID days of 2012, Brandy noted that she intentionally took her sweet time to drop her new project, waiting until she was in the correct space.
Of course, the space we’re currently occupying is a much different world than 2012, which back then was just the title a so-so John Cusack disaster movie, instead of the ACTUAL disaster movie we’re now living.
In a world where COVID-19 has stalled many album releases and the popularity of the Verzuz series have proven that fans are eager to celebrate musical pioneers, there’s no greater opportunity than right now for Brandy to reclaim her crown. The playing field is barren and the notes of established veterans are comfort for weary eardrums.
It’s finally Brandy’s turn.
And I hope y’all are ready for these VIBEZ!
Yeah, I’ve been pretty vocal about R&B’s reliance on “vibes” – the ambient, moody sound that has permeated the genre over the past couple of years. When done well, artists like HER have been able to layer meaningful emotion over those thick, creeping soundscapes. When done poorly, well, grab your pillow, playa, you won’t last long. Just ask Summer (Sleep)Walker.
B7 falls somewhere in the middle of those extremes.
Latest single “Rather Be” is a good transitioning point for Brandy, who sounds downright heavenly over ethereal soundscapes crafted by DJ Camper – the architect behind some of the aforementioned HER’s best work. His production adds a sense of tension to “Borderline,” where Brandy’s relationship insecurities are on full display as she admits “I don’t want to be a schizo this time.” The keys of “Say Something” and the running water on the foggy “Lucid Dreams” make for alluring production too.
“No Tomorrow,” by far the album’s biggest standout and one of my faves of the year so far, proves that you can still have some pep in your step even when the mood is heavy. Brandy expertly slides across the murky production, keeping the energy high due to the track’s catchy cadence. You won’t even notice how stalker-ish the song actually is, with Brandy vowing to blow up some poor guy’s phone.
The writing though, isn’t always that strong across the set. The stuttering production of “ Saving All My Love” is intriguing but the lyrics are WAY too esoteric and disjointed. The word soup of “Unconditional Oceans,” which sounds a hand sanitizer scent, is equally hard to decipher. It’s like Brandy attempted to write a song on her iPhone but the autocorrect went haywire.
And, of course, we have to discuss the infamous first single, “Baby Mama.” While it’s not great I’m not nearly as down on it as some on the Innanets have been. It’s a well-intentioned track that just doesn’t gel in the long run. Chance’s the Rapper’s addition also seemed very heavy-handed here. Meanwhile, “High Heels,” with features Brandy’s daughter Sy’rai and the return of RAPPIN B-ROCKA, is another tribute that goes awry due to the erratic, distracting production.
Thankfully, Brandy pulls the nose up on B7 by the album’s end. “Love Again,” her solid duet with Daniel Caesar, is a welcome addition, as is the album closer “Bye Bipolar,” a stripped down ballad that starts as a vow to protect her mental health but ends as a farewell to a toxic relationship. THAT’S the inventive writing that I wish was more prevalent early on in the album.
B7 is a hard album to rate. Brandy’s rabid fanbase (Do they have a name? Brandy Norwegians?) will quickly latch on to the album’s highlights and proclaim its greatness. And there are even enjoyable Easter eggs for Day One fans to enjoy – the “All My Life” interludes harkening back to the “I Dedicate” days of 1994, for instance. But the album is also hindered by the tropes that have frustrated R&B fans for years now – depressing “vibes,” awkward writing, poor mixing that drowns out her vocals, etc.
The good mostly outweighs the bad though, making B7 a very uneven but occasionally solid listen. In the days of COVID, you gotta celebrate the small victories.
Best tracks: “No Tomorrow,” “Rather Be,” “Love Again”
3 stars out of 5