July 31, 2016

Britney Spears - …Baby One More Time (1999) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop
Label Number: 01241-41651-2
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© 1999 Jive Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
At the beginning of the '90s, teen currency shifted from bubblegum'n'Tiger Beat to grunge'n'Maximum Rock & Roll. Although it may have been pushed from the spotlight, teen pop hadn't died -- it, in a way, went underground, spending time on the fringes of pop culture. One of the leading lights of the exiled teen brigade was The New Mickey Mouse Club. For several years, it toiled away on the Disney Network, earning a small fan base -- but, more importantly, providing a launchpad for several careers, including that of Britney Spears. Like her fellow NMMC alumni *N Sync, Spears shot to stardom in the late '90s, just as she was on the verge of late adolescence. By that time, everything old was new again. Albums like her debut, ...Baby One More Time, were topping the charts as if they were Hangin' Tough, which is only appropriate since it sounded as if it could have been cut in 1989, not 1999. ...Baby One More Time has the same blend of infectious, rap-inflected dance-pop and smooth balladry that propelled the New Kids and Debbie Gibson, due to the Backstreet Boys' producer, Max Martin, who is also the mastermind behind Spears' debut. He has a knack for catchy hooks, endearing melodies, and engaging Euro-dance rhythms, all of which are best heard on the hits: the ingenious title track, "Sometimes," "(You Drive Me) Crazy," and the utterly delightful, bubblegum-ragga album track "Soda Pop." Like many teen pop albums, ...Baby One More Time has its share of well-crafted filler, but the singles, combined with Britney's burgeoning charisma, make this a pretty great piece of fluff.

tags: britney spears, baby one more time, ...baby, 1999, flac,

July 27, 2016

IMx - Introducing IMx (1999)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 088 112 061-2
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© 1999 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by John Bush
The first album by the rejuvenated trio formerly known as Immature isn't a complete departure from their previous material. For the most part, IMx just keep on doing what they've been doing for almost ten years, spreading their light, soulful R&B harmonies over arrangements that slowly change with the times, just behind the latest developments in urban and hip-hop. So the stuttered beats and vocal fills that made Timbaland famous in 1997 are recycled here, over two years after their initial breakout. It's derivative and not very well done, and makes IMx rely on their voices and the songs themselves to carry the album. The tracks that work best do exactly that. The sweet ballad "In & Out of Love" goes for a more mainstream R&B production and focuses on letting IMx's harmonies shine. Unfortunately, songs like that are more the exceptions than the rule. Instead of gaining the trio a bit of credibility in hip-hop circles, Introducing IMx sounded immediately dated the day it came out, to say nothing of a year later.

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Various Artists - Underworld: Music From The Motion Picture (2003)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Alternative Rock, Industrial Rock, Electronic
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© 2003 Lakeshore Records
AllMusic Review by Cammila Collar
A fine example of a great soundtrack to a bad movie, the Underworld original motion picture soundtrack is full of so much thematically cohesive music, near incestuous collaborations, and material composed specifically for the disc, it plays almost like a concept album, written within the parameters of rage, sex, melancholy, and fear. Among the more notable tracks are numerous one-minute interludes by Renholder -- a pseudonym used by longtime Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle collaborator Danny Lohner -- whose murky, industrially infused guitar segues help to create smooth transitions between artists and songs. Another gem is "Rev 22:20," a song credited to Puscifer, the recording name for the collaboration of Lohner and Maynard James Keenan. "Rev 22:20" is far from cheap shock rock, despite such sacrilegious lyrics as "Christ is coming/And so am I" -- not a far cry from the words actually found at Revelations, chapter 22, verse 20: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'" No Bible passage, however, appears to directly reflect the line "Jesus is risen, it's no surprise/Even he would martyr his momma to ride to hell between those thighs." The messianic subject matter immediately sets the stage for any listener to easily become either enraged or aroused. The song strokes at the audience's guilty excitability and explores the way that Judeo-Christian sensual forbiddance parallels the volatile eroticism of basic sexual frustration. Keenan's presence on the album is as pervasive as Lohner's, coming up again in excellent string-heavy remixes of the A Perfect Circle tunes "Judith" and "Weak and Powerless," as well as singing background vocals on the David Bowie song "Bring Me the Disco King" -- a reflective and sexy track that outshines the original version that appeared on Bowie's 2003 Reality. Appearances by Milla and Sarah Bettens round out the moodier side of the album, while songs like "Baby's First Coffin" by math-metal group the Dillinger Escape Plan inject the disc with a pissed-off energy that saves it from overall goth gloom. Even a track by the borderline laughably self-important industrial act Skinny Puppy is perfectly placed. The Underworld soundtrack's profile took an understandable hit for its involvement with such a cheese-fest of a movie, but it stacks up remarkably well on its own merit. Perhaps the soundtrack alone should be granted a sequel.

tags: various artists, underworld soundtrack, underworld music from the motion picture, 2003, flac, ost,

Babyface - Face2Face (2001) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 2001 Artista Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Babyface took his sweet time to deliver the sequel to The Day, a rare flop in his catalog, waiting nearly five years to release Face2Face. He wasn't exactly in seclusion, since he still worked relentlessly as a producer and songwriter, even masterminding the tremendous pop-punk soundtrack for the 2001 film Josie & the Pussycats. All this activity, combined with the subtleness of The Day, is in no way preparation for Face2Face, a gleaming, stylish platter of urban funk and smooth soul that is easily among his very best records. As Babyface's sense of craft deepens, he's become more assured with what he wants to do on his own records. Though he's dabbled in funk since the beginning of his career, the grooves here cut deeper and are flashier than ever before, and the sweet croon of his voice just makes them seem deeper. Then there are the ballads that he's always excelled at -- they're just as good here, but they not only offer good contrast, they sound better in this context, surrounded by such exquisite dance numbers and grooves. Even if Face2Face fails to match the chart heights of, say, "Whip Appeal," Babyface has never been in better form, and from beginning to end, this record captures him at the peak of his powers.

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July 26, 2016

Babyface - The Day (1996)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 1996 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Leo Stanley
The Day was the first album Babyface released after being elevated into a virtually guaranteed hitmaker in the mid-'90s through his work with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Madonna, and Mariah Carey, among many others. The album confirms his skill for subtle, inventive songwriting and accessible, polished yet soulful production. Babyface can straddle the line between hip-hop and traditional soul better than nearly any other artist, as evidenced by the hits he has orchestrated for other artists. On his own, he is still compelling -- his voice is as smooth as silk, and nearly as seductive -- but it doesn't quite have the force of personality as his greatest productions. Nevertheless, The Day qualifies as state-of-the-art mid-'90s soul, featuring a handful of terrific songs, and a lot of extremely pleasurable filler. [The 2001 CD reissue adds historical liner notes and three bonus tracks: remixes of "Everytime I Close My Eyes," "This Is For the Lover in You," and "Everytime I Feel the Groove," the last of which was previously unreleased and not found on the original album in any form.]

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R. Kelly - R. Kelly (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 1995 Jive Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With the salacious 12 PlayR. Kelly established himself as one of the top R&B hitmakers of the mid-'90s, rivalled only by Babyface and Dr. Dre for overall consistency. 12 Play was marred by occasionally slight tunes which were obscured by the explicit sexuality of the lyrics. R. Kelly isn't hampered by those flaws, although it isn't a perfect record by any means. Throughout the album, Kelly relies on melody and grooves instead of overtly carnal imagery. But that doesn't mean he has cleaned up -- Kelly remains a sly, seductive crooner, and his sexiness is more effective when it is suggestive. Nevertheless, his lyrics and music are never subtle -- even on the ballads which dominate this album -- which can make R. Kelly tiresome if taken as a whole. Taken as individual songs, the album works better than anything he has recorded to date.

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U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)

*U.K. pressing. 
Contains 12 tracks total.
Country: Ireland
Language: English
Genre: Pop Rock
Label Number: CIDU212/548095-2

© 2000 Island Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Nearly ten years after beginning U2 Mach II with their brilliant seventh album Achtung Baby, U2 ease into their third phase with 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. The title signifies more than it seems, since the group sifts through its past, working with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, all in an effort to construct a classicist U2 album. Thankfully, it's a rock record from a band that absorbed all the elastic experimentation, studio trickery, dance flirtations, and genre bending of Achtung, Zooropa, and Pop -- all they've shed is the irony. U2 choose not to delve as darkly personal as they did on Achtung or Zooropa, yet they also avoid the alienating archness of Pop, returning to the generous spirit that flowed through their best '80s records. On that level, All may be reminiscent of The Joshua Tree, but this is a clever and craftsmanlike record, filled with nifty twists in the arrangements, small sonic details, and colors. U2 take subtle risks, such as their best pure pop song ever with "Wild Honey"; they're so self-confident they effortlessly write their best anthem in years with "Beautiful Day"; they offer the gospel-influenced "Stuck in a Moment," never once lowering it to the shtick it would have been on Rattle and Hum. Like any work from craftsmen, All That You Can't Leave Behind winds up being a work of modest pleasures, where the way the verse eases into the chorus means more than the overall message, and this is truly the first U2 album where that sentiment applies -- but there is genuine pleasure in their craft, for the band and listener alike.

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U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)

Country: Ireland
Language: English
Genre: Pop Rock
Label Number: 314-510 347-2

© 1991 Island Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Reinventions rarely come as thorough and effective as Achtung Baby, an album that completely changed U2's sound and style. The crashing, unrecognizable distorted guitars that open "Zoo Station" are a clear signal that U2 have traded their Americana pretensions for postmodern, contemporary European music. Drawing equally from Bowie's electronic, avant-garde explorations of the late '70s and the neo-psychedelic sounds of the thriving rave and Madchester club scenes of early-'90s England, Achtung Baby sounds vibrant and endlessly inventive. Unlike their inspirations, U2 rarely experiment with song structures over the course of the album. Instead, they use the thick dance beats, swirling guitars, layers of effects, and found sounds to break traditional songs out of their constraints, revealing the tortured emotional core of their songs with the hyper-loaded arrangements. In such a dense musical setting, it isn't surprising that U2 have abandoned the political for the personal on Achtung Baby, since the music, even with its inviting rhythms, is more introspective than anthemic. Bono has never been as emotionally naked as he is on Achtung Baby, creating a feverish nightmare of broken hearts and desperate loneliness; unlike other U2 albums, it's filled with sexual imagery, much of it quite disturbing, and it ends on a disquieting note. Few bands as far into their career as U2 have recorded an album as adventurous or fulfilled their ambitions quite as successfully as they do on Achtung Baby, and the result is arguably their best album.

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July 25, 2016

The Wizar'd - Pathways Into Darkness (2010)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal, Heavy Metal
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© 2010 Barbarian Wrath
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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The Wizar'd - Sebado Negro (2008)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2008 Bear In Your Ear Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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The Wizar'd - Infernal Wizardry (2008)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2008 Rusty Axe Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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The Wizar'd - Follow The Wizard: E.P (2006)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2006 Rusty Axe Records
Reviewed by: Ulysses for MetalCrypt.com
This EP, gentlemen, is the best Doom release I've heard so far for 2006 (and perhaps the best EP I've ever heard in my life!) These crafty fellows from Australia play Doom in such an interesting style that although you can still trace the usual Black Sabbath/Saint Vitus/Candlemass influence, they still manage to end up incredibly entertaining, revolutionary and unexpectedly original. This band is to Doom what "Inquisition" is to Black Metal. This EP is no mere 15 minute listen though, it nearly clocks at 30 minutes (Hell, even Immortal full lengths are that long!). Enough with the Black Metal references in this thread, let's get on with the crushing DOOM presented by The Wizar'd (Odd name too – How would you pronounce that? The Wizar-duh?). The EP begins with "The Devil In The Woods", which starts off with a recording from this old movie I seem to recognize… but can't quite put my finder on it. After that, some sluggish bass notes crawl out onto the surface, which are then accompanied by slow, crushing riffs. Everything is revealed step after step in this track, from bass to drums to guitar to the vocals. The vocalist on this EP, (under the moniker Ol' Rusty Vintage Wizard Master) has perhaps some of the most effective Doom-vocals I've ever heard. He's sort of a weird mixture between Eddie Marcolin of Candlemass and Morris Ingram of Solstice, but he sings at a much slower pace to accompany the devastatingly slow doom riffs. The leads in the first track are also deviously clever, ringing in your head for days. The next track, an odd acoustic instrumental named "The Goblin Washes His Feet" is nothing more than a fun one minute interlude until you reach the third track entitled "Life Eternal". The EP maintains the same formula throughout, without becoming monotonous and always introducing some crushing new riffs, slothful drum beats and echoing bass lines. Follow The Wizard then concludes with "Funeral Circle", which is no less as excellent than the rest of the album. Everytime I finish this EP, I'm always craving for more Wizar'd, but I guess I'll have to wait a while! This is truly an amazing release, if this were a full-length I'd undoubtedly award it that extra "+".
Highly recommended, buy it if you see it!!

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July 23, 2016

Blondie - Eat To The Beat (1979)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: New Wave
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© 1979-1985 Chrysalis Records
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Just as Blondie's second album, Plastic Letters, was a pale imitation of their self-titled debut, Eat to the Beat, their fourth album, was a secondhand version of their breakthrough third album, Parallel Lines: one step forward, half a step back. There was an attempt, on such songs as "The Hardest Part" and "Atomic," to recreate the rock/disco fusion of the group's one major U.S. hit, "Heart of Glass," without similar success, and, elsewhere, the band just tried to cover too many stylistic bases. "Die Young Stay Pretty," for example, dipped into an island sound complete with modified reggae beat (a foreshadowing of the upcoming hit "The Tide Is High"), and "Sound-a-Sleep" was a lullaby that dragged too much to be a good change of pace. The British, who had long since been converted, made Eat to the Beat another chart-topper, with three major hits, including a number one ranking for "Atomic" and almost the same success for "Dreaming," but in the U.S., which still saw Blondie as a slightly comic one-hit wonder, the album was greeted for what it was -- slick corporate rock without the tangy flavor that had made Parallel Lines such ear candy.

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Blondie - Plastic Letters (1977)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop Rock, New Wave
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© 1977-1985 Chrysalis Records
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
In artistic terms, Plastic Letters, Blondie's second album, was a classic example of the sophomore slump. If their debut, Blondie, was a precise update of the early-'60s girl group sound, delivered with an ironic, '70s sensibility, its follow-up seemed to consist of leftovers, the songwriting never emerging from obscurity and pedestrian musical tracks. The production (again courtesy of Richard Gottehrer) was once again bright and sharp, but in the service of inferior material it alone couldn't save the collection. The two exceptions to the general mediocrity were "Denis," a revival of Randy & the Rainbows' 1963 hit "Denise," for which Deborah Harry sang a verse in French to justify the name and gender change, and "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear," written by Gary Valentine, who had left Blondie shortly before the recording of the album. Due to these two songs, the album became a commercial success, at least overseas. British-based Chrysalis Records had bought out Private Stock, giving Blondie greater distribution and more of an international marketing focus. The result was that "Denis" broke them in Europe, nearly topping the U.K. charts and followed into the Top Ten by "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear," with the album also peaking in the Top Ten. In the U.S., Blondie finally charted, making the Top 100. The songwriting problem did not seem to bode well, but they would take a distinctly different approach next time out.

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Boy George - Sold (1987)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop
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© 1987 Virgin Records
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Boy George teamed up with Lamont Dozier to write many of the songs on his debut album, much of which has a harder dance pop edge than his work with Culture Club. But it's still that bouncy, vulnerable voice, notably on the reggae-tinged hit "Everything I Own," that remains his trademark.

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July 19, 2016

Steel Panther - Balls Out (2011)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Glam Metal
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© 2011 Universal Republic Records
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney
Whether or not you’re a fan of Steel Panther’s ridiculously over the top glam metal, you have to appreciate their dedication. For a comedy rock band, they manage to tell a joke with a surprisingly straight face, jamming out sleazy hair metal in a way that is equal parts caricature and homage. With the band's pedigree lying with acts like L.A. Guns and Fight, it’s not really a surprise that Balls Out is such a spot-on tribute to the excess of that bygone era, coming from people who were there to see the rise and fall of the genre from the inside. Songs like “It Won’t Suck Itself” and “17 Girls in a Row” show that Steel Panther are still the comedy rock masters of the single entendre, but to be fair, subtlety isn’t what an album like this is all about. This isn’t a carefree, “hang around the house and mow the lawn while you reminisce about the '80s" record, but more of an “all-night bender at a strip club while you reminisce about the '80s" record. As a hair metal album, Balls Out is finely crafted and well produced, evoking the glossy sound of the era, but as a joke, it’s pretty one-note, so either you’re going to get it or it’s going to grate on you. That said, if you’ve been looking for the glam metal equivalent of a theme park ride to be the soundtrack to a guys' night out bird-doggin’ chicks, you’ve found your holy grail.

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Mötley Crüe - Mötley Crüe (1994)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Heavy Metal, Alternative Metal
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© 1994 Elektra Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
On Mötley Crüe's first album recorded without vocalist Vince Neil, the band revamped its trademark dirty but melodic heavy metal, adding elements of '90s grunge and alternative metal. New vocalist John Corabi is a hoarse shouter without Neil's charisma, so he wasn't able to put a distinctive spin on the pedestrian grind the rest of the band churned out. Mötley Crüe seems to have equated grunge with seriousness on this eponymously title release, since very few of the songs on the record recall the hedonistic atmosphere of the band's '80s albums. Unfortunately, this also means they have neglected to write memorable hooks and riffs, which makes Mötley Crüe the weakest effort in their catalog. [In 2003, the Crüe remastered and reissued Mötley Crüe on the band's own Motley/Hip-O label with three bonus tracks: two unreleased songs ("Hypnotized" and "Livin' in the Know") and the non-LP track "Babykills."]

July 18, 2016

Grand Funk Railroad - Greatest Hits (2006)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Classic Rock
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© 2006 Capitol Records
AllMusic Review by
Grand Funk Railroad took their veiled Motown/Stax influences and grafted them onto a fuzz-drenched hard blues-rock template, and muffler dragging roared out of Flint, Michigan like the little engine that could, confounding the critics and building an impressive record sales portfolio in the 1970s by giving their ardent, blue-collar fans no more and no less than what was expected of them. Distilled into a 14-track greatest-hits set like this one, it's easy to see that Grand Funk (they dropped -- then re-added -- the "Railroad" part of their name as the juggernaut rolled on) was essentially a singles band (although their albums did phenomenally well back in the day) with not a whole lot to say but a knack for saying it really well, which, when you think about it, is usually a sure ticket into the Top 40. Greatest Hits has all the essential jukebox fare (lacking only their so-so cover of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter"), including the clichéd but emotionally right "Heartbreaker," everybody's favorite guilty pleasure, the mock epic "I'm Your Captain," and a pair of pop-soul gems, the group's cover of the Soul Brothers Six's "Some Kind of Wonderful," and Mark Farner's best-ever song, the marvelous "Bad Time," which came complete with cellos and fuzz guitar. For most, this single-disc collection will be more than adequate, but listeners looking for the complete Grand Funk story should check out Capitol's three-disc Thirty Years of Funk from 1999, or the four-disc Trunk of Funk, also from Capitol, released in 2002. The very best is here, though.

En Vogue - Masterpiece Theatre (2000) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 62416-2
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© 2000 Elektra Records
AllMusic Review by Stacia Proefrock
Whether it was caused by Dawn Robinson's absence or the questionable manipulations of their production team, En Vogue's first release as a trio, EV3, was a disappointment. Masterpiece Theatre, their second album since Robinson's departure, shows the group in much finer form. The silky-smooth harmonies are still there, combined with forceful solos and sassy and intelligent lyrics. "Love U Crazay" and "Those Dogs" both explore the liabilities of love in an aggressively funny way, set to famous classical music melodies, while still keeping funky R&B flavors. More traditional love songs pepper the rest of the album, but throughout, Masterpiece Theatre manages to accomplish what few albums do -- being clever and classy at the same time.

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Brandy - Human (Walmart Limited Edition) (2008)

*Contains 2 bonus tracks. 
17 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 88697406952
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© 2008 Epic, Koch Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
Human's release marked the longest wait between Brandy albums, if only by a few months, and it's easy to understand why. After Afrodisiac's June 2004 release, Brandy dropped her manager, left Atlantic, broke off an engagement, was a judge on America's Got Talent, got into a car accident that caused the death of a driver, and signed with Epic (possibly in that order). Issued a few months prior to facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the husband of the woman who died in the accident, Human is easily the most platitudinal Brandy album, but it is no less compelling for it, even when blocking out the complicated context of the singer's personal life. Renewing her alliance with Rodney Jerkins, whose production and co-songwriting work dominate the album's first half, Brandy is clearly in a comfort zone that enables her to open up more than ever. This is demonstrated from the beginning, in "The Definition," where she declares a clean slate with trembling resilience. Through most other voices, optimistic "everyone together now" songs like "Warm It Up (With Love)" and soul-searching adult contemporary ballads like "Human" and "Fall" (written with Natasha Bedingfield) would wilt, but there's no denying Brandy's unforced sincerity. Nothing here will get any party started; Human is nothing if not a serious album, not to mention the least enjoyable release in Brandy's catalog. But it could very well be her most useful one.

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Brandy - The Best of Brandy (2005)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
Label Number: R2 74647
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© 2005 Atlantic Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
Brandy doesn't record often. Nobody could accuse her of being prolific, since she released only four albums during the first decade of her music career. She does, however, make each trip to the studio count, and she hasn't only released enough memorable singles to fill out a best-of -- as The Best of Brandy doesn't quite indicate to the fullest extent. The disc is straightforward and rather thorough in its makeup, compiling almost all of Brandy's charting singles. Minor hit "He Is" is left off, as is "Missing You," the Top Ten R&B single from the Set It Off soundtrack, in which the singer shared duties with Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and Tamia, but neither is terribly missed. Despite the disc's handiness, the representation from each album, when compared to one another, is more than a little deceiving; a combined ten tracks come from 1994's self-titled debut and 1998's Never Say Never, while only four combined tracks are taken from 2002's Full Moon and 2004's Afrodisiac. Though the last two albums evidently didn't produce nearly as many big singles, they're just as strong and fresh as the first two -- so this set, unlike so many other anthologies from her contemporaries, hardly confirms dwindling creativity or popularity. A couple minor surprises: a cover of Michael Jackson's "Rock with You," pulled from Quincy Jones' Q's Jook Joint album (odds are good that many hardcore fans didn't know of its existence), and a remix of "I Wanna Be Down" that features Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Yo-Yo.

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Brandy - Full Moon (2002)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 83493-2
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© 2002 Atlantic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Brandy built her stardom on a few well-timed singles, but she never really delivered albums that fulfilled her promise as a front-woman. Full Moon, her third album, comes the closest to being a full-fledged, well-rounded album, as well as establishing a personality as a singer. That's not to say this album is as fiercely independent or adventurous as Aaliyah's last album, or even efforts by Blu Cantrell and Toya, but it's the most assured, risky album Brandy has yet recorded, the one that suggests that she is more than an appealing young personality who is as effective on record as she is on made-for-TV movies. Full Moon still has some flaws common to contemporary urban soul records -- namely, it's too lengthy, filled with songs that are just there to ensure that the album runs close to 70 minutes, giving some listeners the impression they're getting more bang for their buck; apart from that, the record can be a little too even-keeled and samey -- but it's professionally performed and expertly pitched at the mainstream, with just enough beats to make it seem fresh, yet those very rhythms are polished but always enough to keep the entire enterprise safe and non-threatening. That, of course, means that Full Moon is perched perfectly between the interesting and the mundane and is in equal parts either. Since she's pushing slightly harder to be mature, it's a little more mature and consistent than her previous albums, but each step forward feels measured and calculated -- not necessarily a bad thing, but something that's noticeable as the album stretches on and on over its 17 tracks. There are plenty of moments here that are seductively smooth and even the filler goes down smoothly, but when it's finished, Brandy seems no more distinctive than she did when it started, so it's no wonder that even its triumphs seem muted.

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Brandy - Afrodisiac (2004)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 83633-2
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© 2004 Atlantic Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
Now over a decade into her music career, Brandy is nothing if not consistent. Afrodisiac nevertheless involves a number of personal and creative changes. Since the making of 2002's Full Moon, she became a mother, split with her husband, picked up new manager Benny "The Actual Fresh Prince" Medina, and swapped out primary producer Rodney Jerkins in favor of Timbaland (not necessarily in that order). And her image has drifted away from the one she cast when she was just starting out; this hasn't transpired without some controversy. It's to be expected, but one still has to wonder what all the fuss is about. First, who doesn't change between the ages of 15 and 25? Second, the development isn't quite as drastic as Janet Jackson's jump from "Escapade" to "Throb," though there's a significant parallel there -- Brandy's provocative pose on the cover of Vibe, which hit stands just before this album, recalls Janet's cupped-breast appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1993. Though the surroundings and circumstances may be new to artist and fans alike, the effectiveness has not suffered for it: Afrodisiac is Brandy's fourth consecutive durable showing, fluffed out with a few innocuous -- if still very listenable -- filler moments, but it is stocked with a number of spectacular -- and emotionally resonant -- singles that wind up making for her most accomplished set yet. To regrettably drag Janet back into this, lead single "Talk About Our Love" is even more exceptional than another recent Kanye West-produced track, Janet's own "I Want You," and is a career highlight for both producer and vocalist. Timbaland provides 60 percent of the tracks; though he has confessed to being worn out by the process of music lately, you wouldn't know it from his inspired work. Whether or not Brandy penned the lyrics, her experiences have clearly engendered a new depth to her songs. Her voice remains a treat to hear, and on a couple tracks she wears a slightly worn scratchiness surprisingly well. Closing track "Should I Go" is about as honest and searching as anyone gets these days, and while it's also noteworthy for allowing Brandy and Timbaland to pay tribute to shared love Coldplay, it's the music industry that's being contemplated, not a romantic relationship. Whatever Brandy decides to do, consider her mark made.

tags: brandy, afrodisiac, 2004, flac,

Kelly Rowland - Simply Deep (2003)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 2003 Columbia Records

It seems hard to believe now, but at the beginning of 2003, it appeared that underdog Kelly Rowland might usurp her fellow Destiny's Child member Beyoncé in the solo career stakes, having scored a U.S. chart-topper and a U.K. number one album shortly after her bandmate's Austin Powers-related "Work It Out" failed to even make it into the Billboard Hot 100. Of course, time has shown that this surprising role reversal only ever lasted a mere six months, but while "Crazy in Love" might have blown any comparisons out of the water, its parent album didn't exactly produce the whitewash expected. Indeed, take away the Chi-Lites sampling booty-shaker and there isn't much difference in quality between Dangerously in Love and Rowland's first offering, Simply Deep. Like the former's early uptempo nature, the latter's 14 tracks start promisingly with the rock-tinged "Stole," an emotive tale of school shootings and suicides, the Patti LaBelle-sampling Nelly duet "Dilemma," and the clattering percussion of "Can't Nobody." But other than the Timbaland-esque staccato R&B of the Brandy-penned "Love/Hate," and the sleek disco-funk of "Past 12," the album soon becomes bogged down with the kind of gloopy, forgettable ballads that also dominated Beyoncé's debut. The likes of finger-clicking slow jam "Haven't Told You," twinkling nu-soul number "Heaven," and the Solange-featuring title track are all slickly produced, allowing Rowland's soulful and seductive vocals to come to the forefront for a change, but they're so utterly generic that they could have been lifted from several of her fellow young urban divas' output, with only the gorgeous "Train on a Track," an acoustic-driven lament to the first flourishes of love, and the chugging guitars and mournful strings of "Beyond Imagination," deviating from the late-night slow jam pastiche formula. Having been recorded over just three weeks in order to capitalize on the success of "Dilemma," Simply Deep does sometimes have the feel of a "will this do?" rush job, but skip past the schmaltzy filler and there are several flashes of inspiration which are more than worthy of sitting alongside the highlights of Beyoncé's back catalog.

tags: kelly rowland, simply deep, 2003, flac,