Brandy’s Epic debut finds her in reboot mode, re-teaming with producer Rodney Jerkins after a creatively, if not commercially, successful turn with Timbaland and Kanye West on 2004’s Afrodisiac, her final album with her longtime label Atlantic Records. Like its predecessor, Human is filled with personal confessions and self-empowerment anthems including the rousing lead single “Right Here (Departed),” “Warm It Up (With Love),” an ostensibly Obama-inspired hymn that includes references to “change,” “hope,” and “something to believe in,” and “Piano Man,” an ode to the kind of creative relationship that’s often cultivated by a vocalist and his or her chief producer/songwriting partner—in this case, Jerkins.
What prevents Human from being a sort of Afro Pt. 2, then, is a minor onslaught of adult-contemporary schmaltz, something Afrodisiac‘s producers wisely eschewed. And the presence of ‘90s-style ballads like the title track and “True” (both, it should be noted, not produced by Jerkins) should come as no surprise given that the album is an obvious attempt at recapturing Brandy’s past successes. Second single “Long Distance” sounds like a cliché power ballad that could have been sung by Phil Collins or Peter Cetera in the ‘80s as the theme for some big Hollywood popcorn flick.
And while Afrodisiac made explicit reference to the singer’s sham marriage, her early career, and her desire to quit the business, Human skirts the details of the last tumultuous four years of Brandy’s life and instead paints in broad
strokes. Not counting an embarrassing spoken-word intro, “Dropped all that baggage” are the first words on the album, followed by a declaration that Brandy has “made the greatest discovery of mankind”; sadly, it’s not an existential spiritual discovery but the attainment of an ideal man. Likewise, the title track seems to make veiled reference to the pending civil suit Brandy faces following a fatal car crash in 2006 (“I made mistakes but I can’t turn back time/I’m only human, forgive me,” she pleads), but once again doubles as nothing more than a standard love song.
These are minor quibbles, however, as much of Human follows the blueprint of Brandy’s last couple of records, with her distinctly velvety voice proving to be a perfect match for the slick production values of beatmasters like Jerkins. The way she persuasively sings, “Play me a song about heartache/I promise I can sing every word” on “Piano Man” is a testament to her enduring professional relationship with the producer. Still, the Timbo-esque “Shattered Heart,” which succeeds in spite of the refrain “I put my love in a jar/In my heart like a piggybank/And I’m giving it to you,” makes one wonder what Brandy and the real Timbaland could come up with if given a second go-around.