Overall: The sleepy, monotonous production drags the whole project down
I wish I could say the most disappointing thing about Toni Braxton's newest release (and first on Def Jam Recordings), Sex & Cigarettes, is that it's a very short, 8-track EP. Rather, I say with regret that I stand relieved at its brevity. It's damning liability is its narcoleptic music. Bare-bone arrangements that rely on acoustic guitars, strings and/or piano have their purpose. They're soothing and are a welcomed alternative to heavy rhythms, effects and other production clutter. The minimalism often helps in playing up emotion and creating the perception of intimacy. However, a little adornment is still needed to prevent a 'bare-bones' piece from being a snooze. There are no musical upsurges, noteworthy vocal moments or particularly etching lyrics to awaken the compositions on Braxton's album. They all plateau by the end of the first chorus. I was reminded of every TV scene I've viewed where a police officer yelled "Move on; there's nothing to see here!" On the production team are several individuals Braxton has collaborated with before, including Paul Boutin (ex. The Heat, engineering), Antonio Dixon (ex. Love, Marriage & Divorce, songwriting) and Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds (ex. producing and/or writing on every Toni album except Pulse).
Though it's unlikely people will be quoting or tattooing lyrics from Braxton's octet, the material is respectable. This excludes the childishly and regressively worded "FOH," the text message acronym for 'f*ck out of here.' Man, do I miss the days where I could get through an album without hearing a song that's phrased like a street or online conversation. I also miss the days of the ever-regal diva who saved the F-bombs for the house (the expletive is also unnecessarily used on "Sex and Cigarettes"). The other thing the content has going for it is that it's conceptually consistent. All the romance-related regret and misery might've been prickling, if the production wasn't so dry. Daryl Simmons, Stuart Crichton, Patrick "J.Que" Smith and singer Colbie Calliat are among those who co-wrote with Braxton. Simmons is a long-time Babyface collaborator whose robust R&B resume includes work with Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, TLC, Destiny's Child and Boyz II Men. Crichton and Smith have credits with Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez.
The most interesting thing about the EP is that the title track's subject matter isn't what you'd expect it to be. It's actually about a no-good cheater who's been coming to bed smelling like sex and cigarettes. It was smart to name the record after that song, because I'm sure it sparked some curiosity. Sadly, it's probable inquiring parties will quickly move on, because "there's nothing to see here."