Recording information: Brandon's Way Recording, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographer: Marc Baptiste.
On Love, Marriage & Divorce, Toni Braxton and Babyface, creative partners going back to the early '90s, rekindle their musical relationship. Both endured broken marriages, and presumably it's those experiences that inform the material here -- a succinct collection of 11 songs, eight of which are duets. The emphasis is on divorce, indicated from the very beginning on "Roller Coaster," where Babyface enters with "Today I got so mad at you, it's like I couldn't control myself." The set finishes with the bittersweet "The D Word," seemingly a Sade homage, in which Babyface confesses "You still own my heart, forever and ever and ever." Moments that deviate from issues of romantic strife are few. The duo don't seem nearly as connected to them. "Sweat," a slinking groove, is like the "Love During War" to Robin Thicke's "Love After War," while "Heart Attack," near the album's end, is a retro-disco move that seems more like a throw-in than a crucial part of the album. The sequence of songs plays out like scenes on shuffle. Either that, or the relationship is extremely up and down; the singers sometimes sound as if they are addressing ex-lovers from other relationships. "Reunited" is a blissful ballad, but it's followed by the embittered "I'd Rather Be Broke," where Braxton asserts, "Just because your money's strong don't mean you can do the things that you do." Babyface is civil and clear-headed on "I Hope That You're Okay," claiming he "can't go through the motions anymore," but Braxton follows with a solo spotlight, "I Wish," that seems drawn from a different situation: "I hope she creeps on you with somebody who is 22/I swear to God, I'm gonna be laughing at you every day." As a narrative, the album can be hard to follow, but it's not as if breakups have a simple arc with a steady, unwavering decline. While most of these songs are ballads, Babyface rarely pulls out his acoustic guitar -- a saving grace for those who tired of hearing it throughout the '90s. This is a solid addition to both artists' discographies. The romantically content won't want to go anywhere near it. ~ Andy Kellman