Music

Brandy: Afrodisiac

Terry Sawyer

Brandy

Afrodisiac

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2004-06-29
UK Release Date: 2004-06-28
Amazon
iTunes

I'll be the first to admit that pop music doesn't make sense to me even on its own terms. Britney Spears, but not Nellie McKay? Occasionally someone genuinely cool like Nelly Furtado (downright subversive by pop standards) slips through the cracks of popularity, making people forget that they usually like their women to be robotic fantasy mirrors conveying to other women an image of unattainable physical perfection and to men the desire to have an inexperienced whore slave.

I guess the reason I've never been able to determine what drives pop, is that it is only partially driven by the quality of the music and much more mercurially motivated by this sordid constellation of consumer desires many of which have absolutely nothing to do with artistry. Of course, this is just my long-winded way of saying that I've never understood why Brandy isn't queen of the pop hill, though I suspect it has much to do with her combination of sass and class and her refusal to undress for success.

Afrodisiac is an openly ironic title for an album that's much more likely to reopen old heartbreak wounds than get you heated up "down there". Given a tossed in reference to Coldplay, Brandy is probably trying to work through a bit of sorrow using her own indefatigable pop instincts. It clearly seems like an album born of depression and betrayal, the kind of chin-up in the face of adversity that a friend gives you right before she breaks into tears. Nearly every song refers back to the unnamed half-stepper, be it defiantly, dejectedly or with straight-up resignation. "Where You Wanna Be" is one of a handful of songs on the album chronicling her loss, beginning with the pitch perfect line "me and you, bleeding through" and girded by a somber back-clack of a beat that raises the tempo of what would otherwise be a complete dirge. But Brandy is not Cat Power and she prefers that even the sad numbers be given the lifeline of a beat, "I Tried", the album's best outing, finds her flexing her voice sorrowfully on a track that's both funky and drowned, a heavily burdened song that nonetheless offers up a relentless groove. It's a mature reflection on love in that most of the songs draw clear distinctions between want and need and the agony that comes from doing right by yourself even if it means leaving someone you're passionately attached to. In the land of the love song, this is practically dissertation-level depth.

Brandy's best when she's pissed, like the neck rolling singles of her past efforts, "The Boy Is Mine" and "What About Us?". .Beyonce couldn't pull this shit off even if Brandy gave classes; because even when the erstwhile Destiny's Child belts it out she sounds like one high heel is cut an inch shorter than the other. "Sadiddy" barrels in one of Timbaland's twisted beat structures, which sounds like a folding chair collapsing repeatedly. Its message is a warning flare for players and a rallying cry for women dissed, bothered, and bewildered. Brandy doesn't completely drop the club thumpers, laying down "Turn It Up", with drums that trip over themselves and alternate their pace while Brandy breathing in to keep the pace bumping. While it's been said that Brandy's voice isn't exactly a barn burner, it's not mentioned enough that she does more than enough with what she's got. She never leaves her voice hanging in spotlit scarcity, folding it variegated terracing, whispering out the lead track, shouting in the back-up, and piling each song with enough interlocking sounds to create the tightly packed illusion of vocal massiveness. I admit that I'm not one for verbal acrobatics anyway. I think Mariah Carey's voice weakens the earth's protective shell every time someone plays one of her albums.

Most of the weakest numbers get pushed to the end, where songs like "How I Feel" sound exhausted and porously dull. On traditional ballads, without the punch up of a good backbeat, Brandy can drift and drain, melting into the song without making more than a breeze of an impression. Sadly, the last track, "Should I Go", falls squarely into this category, despite the limp handclaps, which seem placed more to keep you awake than to actually support the song.

Afrodisiac is the crown jewel in Brandy's discography, sacrificing the obvious pop singles for songs and sounds more consistently mature and challenging, blessed with Timbaland's ear for pop sculpture. Still, it's unlikely that this effort will plant her squarely ahead of her lessers in the field of pop music. It's beat-filled melancholy, an affirmation wrapped in a lament, it's the Coldplay record that the R&B set have never had.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image