Spell My Name
Ten albums in, and Toni Braxton's voice still sounds like a revelation, at once contemporary and classic. It's the centerpiece of Spell My Name, and the production is largely elegant and creates space for the singer to show off her chops. It opens with a bubbly dance-pop track and then proceeds to decrescendo from there, with “Do It,” a midtempo, radio-ready collaboration with Missy Elliott, and “Gotta Move On,” which features some phenomenal guitar work from H.E.R. and sets the tone for the slew of slow-burners that follow. By and large, this is a breakup album, the soundtrack of trying to hold on before trying to heal and face forward. (The lone exceptions are the sexy title track and “Fallin',” which hinges on trying to resist the fall of a doomed relationship in the first place.) Songs like “O.V.E.Rr.” and “Saturday Night” capture the feeling of being drawn back into that person's arms in spite of yourself, with Braxton's naturally sultry tones imbuing them with steamy drama. The cinematic standout “Happy Without Me” is a bittersweet ballad that goes down easy in her hands: “Though it really hurts, baby, I’m happy for you,” she cries on the hook, every word believable. It's noteworthy that Braxton doesn't try to pander to the sensibilities of the time. There are no trap beats, no forced lingo, no millennial-style nonchalance—only songs that feel like a lived-in kind of love and heartbreak, measured and convincing and built to sound as timeless as she is.