Toni Braxton debuted on the R&B scene in 1992 with “Love Shoulda Brought You Home,” a ballad originally intended for Anita Baker. In retrospect, her inaugural song seems telling, because she has spent the bulk of her career following in other divas’ high heel prints.
On her new album, “More Than a Woman,” out today, she indulges her copycat tendencies to an appalling degree. She’s even taken to grave robbing, since the title comes from a song by the late Aaliyah.
Nearly every cut brings to mind another tune. The opener, “Let Me Show You the Way (Out),” seems like a needless remix of Mary J. Blige’s smash “Family Affair.” The guitar-blasting “Lies, Lies, Lies” lamely apes every pop-rock number Janet Jackson has ever done. And the Neptunes-produced single “Hit the Freeway” sounded sharper as “Burnin’ Up” by Faith Evans.
Throughout the album, Braxton fails to expand her limited vocal or emotional range. She still largely mumbles and growls in such a way that you can barely understand what she’s saying. And her only emotions are over-the-top melodrama and cloying seduction.
These qualities were sometimes charming on past hits like “Breathe Again,” “I Don’t Want To,” and “Just Be a Man About.” And her smoky delivery makes new songs “Selfish,” and “Do You Remember When” intermittently appealing. But it’s sad that Braxton hasn’t learned new tricks.
Even more than her previous efforts, “Woman” exposes Braxton’s lack of artistic vision and her undeserved fame. If you need proof, just think of how vapid Braxton seems when compared with the gospel-steeped Evans, the searing Blige, or the ever-cool Sade.
A hackneyed set like “Woman” would’ve been bad for a new act, but for a 10-year industry veteran like Braxton, it’s unforgiveable.