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Album review: Toni Braxton's 'Pulse'

May 4, 2010 |  8:16 am

Toni_braxton_pulse_240_ One of the '90s' biggest soul music stars, Toni Braxton hasn't released a new studio album since 2005. But that doesn't mean she's been laying low: In 2008 she ended a nearly two-year run at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, then appeared as a competitor on TV's "Dancing with the Stars." Still, with its sleek digital beats and in-your-face lyrics, Braxton's new "Pulse" has the something-to-prove quality of a comeback record; much of it sounds like her attempt to keep up with the Rihannas and the Beyoncés currently ruling the R&B roost.

Occasionally that inspiration leads Braxton into outright mimicry: Opener "Yesterday" cribs its twinkly emo-soul texture (and some of its airy vocal melody) from Beyoncé's "Broken-Hearted Girl," while the bubbly, synth-soaked "Lookin' at Me" plays like an unintentional ode to "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." The singer has no trouble making herself at home in these cuts, but the flimsy material can't quite conceal her hit-hungry desperation.

Braxton fares better in the album's slower, more sensual songs, such as "Hero," a stutter-stepped ballad cowritten by Kara DioGuardi, and the Chuck Harmony-produced title track. And she's most impressive in "Woman," where she reminds a lover, "I'm not some girl who don't know what she wants." More of "Pulse" could've used that conviction.

— Mikael Wood

Toni Braxton
"Pulse"
(Atlantic)
Two stars (Out of four)


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