All Grown Up
When little Miss Brandy Norwood arrived in the R&B world in 1994, she had a little tomboy in her. With a bright smile and the shoulder-length braids she came to be infamous for, rocking a floppy cap and baggy jeans, she was just modest enough to be endearing. The Missouri native was too innocent and sweet-looking to be (gasp) sexy. Her trademark, instead, was to sing candy-coated caramel songs about typical things 15-year-old girls think about—cute, fine boys. “I Wanna Be Down” marked the beginning of her astronomical success as a singer, despite the fact that she stayed fully clothed. Later, she managed to land a starring role in Thea, then Moesha, signed a modeling contract and continued to act in a few other movies along the way.
All along, though, Brandy was still simply herself. She was demure and charming, always humble and grinning, her parents never too far from the limelight she attempted to share with her little brother, Ray J (who has his own interesting Usher-like thing going on now, but isn’t quite as good a singer). Brandy never had the same just-below-the-surface sensuality of Aaliyah or the hands-on-her-hips sassiness of Monica. She was simply a little girl unfolding her soft voice on mostly Rodney Jerkins-produced tracks. So, when she offered the next step in her evolution into adulthood with Never Say Neverin 1998, it was almost expected. “The Boy Is Mine”, she argued with Monica. “Almost Doesn’t Count”, she appealed. With the piercing tang that only Brandy can deliver, she beat the sophomore jinx by singing love songs without a touch of smut and just a bit of grown woman sensibility.
Now, four years later and in her early 20s the braids are gone in favor of a slick, layered perm. Those jeans have been traded in for leather pants. She’s married with a baby on the way. And “Full Moon” is the perfect metaphor for her transformation. It appears to be the apex of Brandy’s growth as an artist and as a woman, and as she comes into her femininity, her third release proves that there can be few things as stunning to listen to as a woman becoming herself. More importantly, no woman is perfect, but some of us are trying damn hard to get there—and Brandy gets an A+ for effort, even if Full Moon falls slightly short of that grade.
The title track is a club-ready song, with a lulling drumbeat and heavy bass. Her voice on this song, like many of the others, is slightly computerized without sounding overdone. The same is true for “All in Me”, a you-can-depend-on-me love song that infects with its delicate keyboards and sped up breakdown. “I Thought” is an adamant break-up song in the typical vein of angry girl songs. It’s catchy, but slightly weak for its message, even though the new and improved Brandy—christened “B Rocka” by Jerkins—proves that she’s finally comfortable enough with her voice to riff when she’s in the mood. That said, with the exception of “Can We”, few of her up-tempo songs rival the confidence and command she exudes on the album’s first single, “What About Us”.
Aside from a few evident growing pains reflected in some of the repetitive sounds and trite lyrical content, Brandy’s transformation from a homely, girl-next-door singer to pseudo-diva is confirmed with sensual songs like “When You Touch Me”, which starts out with pillow talk and isn’t quite sure if it wants to be R&B or pop. Much like the hand-clapping, funky “Like This”, the blend of genres doesn’t detract from the effectiveness of her newfound vocal maturity or the yearning she evokes as she croons. Not only does her alto ride the simple music perfectly, but the crystalline lilt of her voice overshadows generic lyrics and saves the songs from mediocrity. The same is true for the tired subject matter of “Apart”, which lacks some of the complexity and heft of her ballads.
But the best part of Brandy, the singer and the young woman, is that she can sometimes transform a mere song into an experience. “Anybody” is a delicate window into the world of post-break up loneliness that showcases emotional vulnerability without being sappy. “Nothing It’s Not Worth It”, on the other hand, uses both a sample from her sophomore album and one from Michael Jackson, yet still manages to slightly irritate because it’s too busy. By far, the strongest song on the album is “He Is”, another refreshing love song with a classy piano and sparse drum track.
Despite it’s few low points, Full Moon is an achievement. As she proclaims her womanhood with throaty whispers and assertive wails, there are glimpses of that girl-next-door little lady in the baggy jeans that used to just talk about her “Baby”. But this grown-up Brandy, the one with the leather outfit and the brand new family, has one thing in common with the cherubic girl she used to be: she still sings with relaxing humility and style—qualities the music world is in dire need of right about now.
// Notes from the Road
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