Toni Braxton is the queen of post-breakup misery music. This is where she truly excels in every possible aspect. Braxton’s voice reflexively bends towards sadness like no other in the game.
Since the first track, you start to realize that Toni ain’t playing, she’s slaying this era. The opening trio of songs of this record is outstanding, beginning with “Deadwood”, which has a fantastic singalong chorus alongside enigmatic acoustic strumming and classy strings.
“Sex & Cigarettes” the groove title track, a tale piano ballad of emotional abuse with Braxton, pleading “at least lie to me, lie to me” to a man who doesn’t bother to mask his lover scent of sex and cigarettes. The vocal treatment as well as Toni delivery is shockingly raw. I mean that low register is fascinating.
Toni continues serving us one of the greatest smooth R&B melodies of this year with “Long As I Live” has an even stronger central melody that the other two.
“FOH” is a mastery of emotional range and anger; with lyrics like “Boy you must be suicidal / Is that bitch right there beside you” scans with a chilling brilliance and smouldering indignation that only the Braxton family can do.
“It’s been 47 hours, seven minutes, 30 seconds And now you’re just responding to me Boy, you must be suicidal Is that b**** right there beside you?” (These lines are genuinely iconic)
This track and “Sorry” are clear and robust examples of how Braxton’s smooth raw vocals had survived the face of age, intimate dramas and lupus. She’s really a titanic artist.
“My Heart” (featuring Colbie Caillat), featuring an overly melodramatic production that would sound flat and boring with another singer different from Toni.
There’s also time to experiment with more on-trend sounds like the tropical house in tracks like “Coping”, which still bops even if the Stadium Remix is superior, and “Missin” that fairly closes the album.
“Sex & Cigarettes” is an outstanding effort from R&B’s true queen of anger and heartbreak music. Her music has always been an emotional conduit for her personal struggles. But rarely her songs have sounded as raw and honest as on this record.
You won’t find any over-the-top production among these tracks, “Sex & Cigarettes” sits on the base of quality and minimalist above everything else. Toni’s voice sets the pace to follow and it shows.
Creating just an eight track-album, it’s a move that actually works in the album’s favour. Only thirty minutes of quality music are necessary to tell Toni’s history.
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