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Album review: Brandy's 'Human'

December 8, 2008 |  3:02 pm

Brandy_240_2 Brandy hasn't released a new album since 2004's "Afrodisiac," but she's hardly spent the last four years in obscurity: In 2006 the 29-year-old singer-actor was involved in a traffic accident on the 405 Freeway that killed another driver, and though she's been cleared of all criminal charges, she still faces a $50-million wrongful-death suit filed by the dead woman's family.

Given its moody melodies and midtempo beats -- not to mention lyrics like, "I make mistakes but I can't turn back time / I'm only human, forgive me," from the title track -- it's hard not to hear "Human" as Brandy's musical response to that experience.

Unfortunately, it's also hard to make it through the thing. Brandy's strong suit has never been her thoughtfulness; appropriately for someone with her Hollywood history, she's long been one of R&B's emptiest vessels, a gorgeous voice used by a series of gifted producers (including Rodney Jerkins, Timbaland and Kanye West) to communicate their own unique ideas.

In "I Tried," one of the best cuts on "Afrodisiac," when Brandy sings about wanting to hear some Coldplay, Timbaland ingeniously weaves an interpolation of the band's music into the track.

On "Human" you can hear Brandy striving (understandably) to express herself, yet the result rarely rises above diary-entry tedium. "The whole world is freezing / Need to warm it up with love," she pleads at one point. The few highlights come when Jerkins, who helmed most of the album, including the catchy lead single, "Right Here [Departed]," manages to dial down Brandy's introspection and increase the groove factor.

-- Mikael Wood

One and a half stars