Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes

Posted April 6, 2018 by in r&b



4/ 5


Producer: , , , , ,
Genre: R&B
Producer: Fred Ball, Antonio Dixon, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Dapo Torimiro, Stuart Crichton, C. Tricky Stewart, Pierre Medor
Label: Def Jam
Format: Digital download, compact disc
Time: 30:50
Release Date: 23 March 2018
Spin This: "Long As I Live," "Sex & Cigarettes." "FOH"


Sultry, smooth melodic R&B takes over Braxton's newest set; she sounds good and confident, although preferring to sing mostly in lower register


Too short of an album, absence of dance tracks, plus the Parental Advisory sticker and profanity is a sore spot for grown-folks, but isn't really a big deal, since the music and adult-like subject matter match up

New album from contemporary R&B songstress feels like a moment of epiphany

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

New album from contemporary R&B songstress feels like a moment of epiphany

tonibraxton-02In the last decade, Toni Braxton may be best known for the gossip headlines (“who she dating now? Birdman?,” “not another bankruptcy,” i.e.) and the reduced star power encircling the instant fame from reality-TV fanfare. It’s a silly change of pace for the chart-topping R&B and pop diva with iconic songs in her vault, but it’s one that warrants her staying power. The last solo album she dropped was 2010’s Pulse, a disc that fell below her standards and netted very few sales. But a duets’ disc with Babyface in 2014 put her musical career back on the right track, even netting a Grammy nomination.

With Sex & Cigarettes, Braxton sinks her sultry pipes into succulent contemporary R&B draped around warm synths. It’s a disc that hammers at a saga of a failing, troubled lover. On “Deadwood,” Braxton aches of survival (“I may be down but I’m not out”) and later raises questions of doubt on the piano-heavy ballad title cut. When hearing her frankness, the song is apparently better than its cheap title: “Tell me how am I supposed to trust ya/When I can never tell just where the hell you’ve been.” By the time we hear the splendidly produced “Long As I Live,” which echoes the same rhythms of Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat,” Braxton sounds vocally revived, walking in a comfort zone of adult R&B that’s perfect for now. If this is what a comeback sounds like for a veteran artist struggling to obtain Top 40 flight again, she’s magically found if.

For devout Toni Braxton fans, they might be blindsided by the F-bombs and bitch shoutouts on “FOH.” But think of this as an acting assignment; she’s entered Tyler Perry drama. When you’re mad AF, the blunt profane comes out. And she goes for it, but with a calm borderline-creepy piano line in the background and a voice that’s had enough of the BS: “If you don’t want me around, then don’t come around/Cut off my atmosphere, fuck outta here.” She’s now entered The Weeknd zone, but it’s a triumph of a moment. Another gem to seek for is hidden between the set: “My Heart.” It’s a serene, dreamy track, gently massaged with romantic acoustic guitar and a shared duet with Colbie Caillat.

So let’s focus in on the apparent downfalls. There’s the ho-hum,  almost-embarrassing album title and the brief eight tracks that document it. There’s also nothing to really dance to, but hey — Toni is mostly known for those smokey ballads, so she gets a pass there. The back of the album — the last two tracks — aren’t as strong as what came before it (especially with that abrupt ending on “Missin'”). But Sex & Cigarettes is a satisfying disc, a heralded moment for millennial R&B. Babyface’s stamp is also on most of the tracks, and although the songcraft resembles the notable music from the heyday, this assembly points to a well-intended progression and musical growth. Having said that, there is a fleet of producers involved, with Babyface squeezed in the middle of it all, but they manage to pull off a cohesive album that doesn’t feel like a discombobulated mess. At age 50, Braxton is sounding like a winner again.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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