Likes: My Forever, My Man, Pick Me Up
Dislikes: The Makings of You
Overall: Braxton goes out with a forgettable fizzle, instead of a bang
Shortly before Tamar Braxton released her latest record, Bluebird of Happiness, she sent fans into a tizzy when she posted a picture of the cover with the caption, "This is my best and last album. Enjoy!" In the following days, she explained in an interview that she was stepping back from music to focus on her marriage, but will continue with television. I was skeptical this was her final LP (let's hope she's bluffing), but I didn't doubt it could be her best. Why? For starters, she wasn't posturing in her claims about 2015's Calling All Lovers, which corrected most of what was wrong with the preceding Love & War. 2nd, between a health crisis, quietly departing Epic Records for the independent eOne label, and suddenly getting fired from daytime's The Real, she had plenty to write about. Most importantly, the LP's title and symbolic artwork (Braxton is covered in glittering blue body paint and donning wings) just screamed "concept album!" Upon hearing the name, I did a little research and discovered there's a long history of the bluebird being used an emblem of happiness. However, as I began to listen, I was surprised to hear how off-base my presumptions were.
Not only was there nothing that could be perceived as addressing the aforementioned obstacles, there wasn't a tie-in to the purported theme anywhere. Bluebird didn't unfold like a story, where each track takes you through how trials were overcome and bliss was reached. There aren't even singular songs that do that. It isn't overwhelmingly joyous, warm and fuzzy, or full of "Love on Top's" either. As a matter of fact, it's structurally bipolar in that sense. For example, after the starry-eyed opener "My Forever," comes a tune about a guy who can't make up his mind (i.e. "Wanna Love You Boy"). In the middle of infidelity and breakup cuts is the praising mid-tempo "Pick Me Up." Many artists use intros, outros and interludes to pull everything together, but there isn't as much as a bird sound effect to tell or remind us what this album is all about.
Even independent of its crucial defect, this record disappointingly falls short. More perplexing than the premise being abandoned is how detached Braxton seems, despite emoting and singing beautifully. Perhaps this impression is emitted because the material sounds so uninspired. I hate Cher's 1998 hit "Believe," but I know nearly every word of it. It was made to penetrate my psyche, regardless of if I wanted it to or not. Whether it's one of the most well-written or powerful songs can be discussed, but in the very least, it won't be forgotten. It's like Braxton and her writing/production team's (which includes Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins and Troy Taylor) only aim was for the lyrics and music to not be comprehensibly subpar. Never mind arousing any feelings, be them like, love, hate or love to hate. Never mind holding any weight for years to come or beyond a 1st listen. Never mind going out with a bang (if Tamar is truly hanging her microphone up). My frustration with this was at its highest with "The Makings of You," which uses the 1974 Gladys Knight & The Pips' rendition of the Curtis Mayfield classic. It so heavily depended on the Pips' take, it might as well have been a cover. The portions that were altered were unremarkable. You don't conjure up Mayfield to be basic. It was almost blasphemous. Some other songs that stand out for only their samples are "Wanna Love You Boy" and "Pick Me Up." The former pulls from Robin Thicke's "Wanna Love You Girl" and lyrically from Fantasia's "Free Yourself," which made me chuckle. The latter is an interpolation of Evelyn "Champagne" King's 80's signature "Love Come Down."
Bluebird's "just passable" R&B gave me a flashback of Love & War that I didn't want. Braxton didn't push herself and, ultimately, sold herself short. If she doesn't come out of retirement for any other reason, it should be to create a more suitable bookend.