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Album Review

Brandy's 'Human' is welcome return

December 8, 2008
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POP/SOUL
BRANDY HUMAN
EPIC
ESSENTIAL "The Definition"

Long breaks are usually a bad idea in the pop music world, where trends change quickly. But sometimes those breathers allow fans a chance to miss their favorite artists, who do some maturing in private.

Brandy has been missed while she has faced some serious challenges - including being involved in a 2006 car accident that killed another driver - since her underrated 2004 release, "Afrodisiac." But the former "Moesha" star has never made a bad album, and she's not starting now with the appropriately rich and varied "Human."

Her wisest move here is reuniting with the producer responsible for her greatest successes ("The Boy Is Mine"). Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins manages to balance cool and bubbly pop soul jams like "Piano Man" with warmer, more organic tracks like the gospel-tinged "Long Distance" and bring out the expressive best in her pleasantly raspy vocalizing.

She also collaborates with producer RedOne and labelmate Natasha Bedingfield on two of the album's strongest ballads.

Messages of apology, self-acceptance, and surrender are threaded throughout in ways that feel both empowering and self-medicating. And while they may allude to her personal trials, the emotions are relatable. She rhapsodizes about love on the bouncy "The Definition." She stands her ground on the resolute "Torn Down," a crisp mix of static synths, acoustic guitar, and hand claps. And she cheerfully surveys her flawed, work-in-progress life and declares it good enough on the low-key amble of "Camouflage."

"Human" is better than good enough. It's a light, breezy listen that shows off Brandy's resilience, humility, joy, and vibrancy. (Out tomorrow)

SARAH RODMAN

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