Are you upset that the definition of R&B music haschanged over the last several years? Do you miss the days when an R&B songcould impact the charts without the assistance of a guest rapper or hip-hopmusic bed? Or do you simply want a nice new romantic album that you can play inthe car when out on a romantic date?
Well, a few concessions have been made over the last year asa handful of the genre's best talents have returned for your listeningpleasure.
There's just one catch. Making a comeback after taking anextended hiatus is not always easy. Let's take a look at what Sade, ToniBraxton, Whitney Houston, and Maxwell have done to prepare the market for theirbig returns.
Sade: Smooth Operator
I don't think I've ever met a person who did not love Sade.
From the moment her return was announced, fans have gonenuts with anticipation. Unlike many artists, who reveal that they are returningto the studio and end up spending years rescheduling their release dates (seeMaxwell entry below), Sade stayed on schedule.
The best part about "Solider Of Love," her first album in 10years, is that it delivers her classic sound. Her vocal tone is still husky yetsoft, and music sooths the soul. I understand why some artists feel the need toreinvent themselves to stay fresh and current, but because Sade has a timelessstyle, she does not have to take such an approach.
She effortlessly reclaims her throne. "Soldier Of Love" issolid from beginning to end.
The only surprise is the album's somber message. The thoughtof Sade wrestling with heartache for an entire album is saddening. But hergraceful approach offers enough optimism to keep listeners in good spirits.
The positive reception to "Soldier..." has been overwhelming.The album makes its debut on the charts this week at No. 1 this week, sellingmore than 500,000 copies.
Toni Braxton: BreatheAgain
One of the best voices in R&B, Toni Braxton will release"Pulse," her first album in 5 years on May 4. "Pulse" follows her 2005 full-length,"Libra."
While Braxton has consistently had good music with each ofher records, her last few albums have not performed as well on the charts."Libra" and 2002's "More Than A Woman" only achieved gold sales status comparedto the multi-platinum certifications her previous efforts earned.
The music business has changed significantly during the courseof her career that took off with the 1992 release of her song "Love ShouldaBrought You Home" for the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy's movie "Boomerang." Herself-titled debut came out the next year.
For her 2010 return, Braxton is working hard to reinventherself. In an effort to connect with younger audiences, she recruited populartwentysomething R&B singer Trey Songz for the duet "Yesterday." The twomade headlines in November when they kissed on stage when performing the songfor the Soul Train Awards. Braxton, who is separated from her husband, said theromantic gesture was just a part of the song.
Her newest single, "Make My Heart," will appeal to the dancecommunity. The hip-hop track is more upbeat than Braxton's usual style. Herperformance of the song on "The Wendy Williams Show" last week will undoubtedlyearn some comparisons to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video.
I am generally against artists taking the lead from theircontemporaries, but I can't fault Braxton.
If collabing with Trey Songz, and trying a few Beyonce moveswill get more people to remember her and take note, I will applaud her forknowing how to play the game.
She is still an exceptional talent, looks great, doesn'tneed Auto-Tune, and definitely deserves to have a hit record on the charts.
Whitney Houston: Exhale (Shoop Shoop)
WhitneyHouston's comeback in 2009 was tough.
It had been seven years since she released "Just Whitney..."Her lowest-selling album to date, "Just ..." sold less than 1 million copies inthe U.S.and failed to yield a top 40 hit.
Still regarded as having one of the best voices in thehistory of pop music, for the last decade Houstonhas been plagued by tabloid press about her tumultuous relationship with formerhusband, R&B bad boy Bobby Brown, and battles with drugs.
Her ability to sing was called into question.
There was a lot of pressure on the August 31 release of "ILook To You", her sixth studio album. So Sony's Chief Creative Officer CliveDavis, who signed Whitney more than 25 years ago, rolled out a strategicmarketing campaign to repair her tarnished image.
In February 2009, Houstonperformed at Davis' annual pre-Grammys party,and by July, he hosted massive album listening events in New York, Los Angeles, and Europe. At these gala sessions, Davisexplained each track, and concluded by having Houston came out to speak to the attendees.
The set up worked perfectly to build hype for Houston's big return. "ILook To You" debuted at No. 1, selling more than 300,000 copies in the U.S. But hersub-par live performances on "Good Morning America" and the "Oprah Winfrey Show"drew criticism.
Though none of the album's singles--the title track or theAlicia Keys-penned "Million Dollar Bill"-broke the top 100, and she failed toearn any Grammy nominations, I give Houstona lot of credit for her triumphant return.
Not too many people who have endured what she has could facethe cynicism head on.
Her label took the safe route with her singles, and stuck withher traditional sound. But they should have taken some chances and put promotionbehind the Akon-produced "Like I Never Left" or the R. Kelly collab "Salute."These songs show that while Houston'svoice may not be as powerful as once before, she still has a command for melody,and is able to capture a contemporary sound.
She should release another album before year's end.
According to R&B crooner Maxwell, he spent his 8-yearhiatus since his last release, "Now," simply enjoying the niceties of regularlife. He shaved off his trademark, curly 'fro, and went into seclusion.
It can be argued that his July 2009 album, "BLACKsummers'night,"the first of a trilogy, was the result of being summoned by restless fans.
At the 2008 BET Awards, he made a rare appearance during atribute to Al Green that got his following excited, and he embarked on a tour.
On tour, the usually subdued and sensual singer loosened up,and wiggled around on stage, at times reminiscent of a young Michael Jackson orJackie Wilson.
His return was clearly one of the best planned. He allowedhimself enough time to get reacquainted with his fans, and tried new styleswith live audiences. Giving himself such room for artistic creativity had toput him in the best mindset when recording and finalizing "BLACKsummers'night."
Ironically, when he released "BLACK...," he did not ventureinto the upbeat persona he displayed on the road. He stuck to his normal, laid-backstyling, a sub-genre title he holds undefeated.
His reward was debuting at No. 1 with sales of 316,000, andearning 6 Grammy nominations. His first single, "Pretty Wings," where his sweetfalsetto shines, received a nod for Song Of The Year. At the 52ndannual Grammy Awards, Maxwell took home his first Grammy wins for Best MaleR&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album.