Today’s POP RESCUE is the 1997 ‘special international edition’ of the second album Secrets by American singer Toni Braxton, but is this album one worth keeping? Read on…
This international edition was released in 1997, and features 15 tracks. It opens with the gentle keyboards of Come On Over Here, which as swiftly followed by a sluggish heavy RnB beat as Toni limbers up her voice. Toni makes light work of the first verse, and the backing vocalists join her in the chorus. This is a very slick song, reminding me musically of something you’d find on Madonna’s 1994 album Bedtime Stories which also saw collaboration with Babyface (like some other songs on this album). Tucked away on backing vocals is Shanice, best known in the UK for her 1991 hit I Love Your Smile.
Lead single You’re Makin’ Me So High follows, and this is a wonderful mid-tempo song, making the most of the sultry vocals, slinky bass and beats. Again, the backing vocals sound great – adding an extra layer of warmth. At about 2m 30s, there’s some dated guitars, but otherwise this song sounds perfect. The song gave Toni a #7 UK hit single.
Strings flow with ease throughout next song There’s No Me Without You, which is absolutely a love song. Toni shows off her low-register vocals here in this song written by Babyface. However, the lyrics are a bit nauseating including ‘tell me why i should care ’bout doing my hair’ in the chorus, and it’s a bit American-female-singer-ballad-by-numbers in style. You could easily switch the vocalist on this song to Mariah, Celine, or Whitney. A bit bland.
Then, the acoustic guitar and finger clicks of her huge hit Un-break My Heart written by Diane Warren. This is a slow song, but Toni’s vocals really shine and she’s given a real range from very low to powerful highs. The music here, aside from the acoustic guitar, is absolutely secondary behind Toni’s vocal prowess and the tender lyrics. From 3m 10s Toni lets rip with her power ballad vocals. A classic 90s love song. It gave Toni her second #2 hit UK single – her joint highest chart position so far.
Talking In His Sleep is up next, with Toni questioning just how much you know about your lover, earning Toni a lyrics credit. It’s a slinky bass-heavy but minimal song, with plenty of breathy spoken word vocals and crisp empty spaces. The song is really quite nice.
Fourth and final single How Could An Angel Break My Heart with Kenny G on 90s Obligatory Saxophone. The song is a-wash with luxurious strings and haunting saxophone, as Toni’s somewhat sad vocals weave their way through this gentle ballad.
The tempo picks up for another Babyface track – Find Me A Man. Again, musically this is quite simple, and not a million miles away from the sound of some of the earlier tracks here. Toni is surrounded by a wave of gentle backing vocals who really help her vocals lift and shine. Whilst piano is minimal, it’s left to the bass and beats to lead Toni through this mellow track.
Eighth track Let It Flow acted as the b-side to lead single You’re Makin’ Me High, and received a fair amount of attention itself in the US at least, partly because it was used in the Whitney Houston film Waiting To Exhale (1995). The song opens with some repetitive acoustic guitar, and this weaves throughout. Toni’s vocals here remind me a lot of Whitney, particularly at this point, although there’s also echoes of Gabrielle here too.
Why Should I Care follows this. Acoustic guitar runs through this song, as it gently plods along. Toni’s vocals get to shine once again – with yet more vocal acrobatics to perform. Her backing vocals once again compliment her perfectly. It’s simply just a nice song.
Next up is I Don’t Want To, which sees R. Kelly get a writer, backing vocalist, and musician credit. This song acted as her 3rd UK single, giving her a #9 hit. I almost feel like there’s a nod to her debut single in the chorus – ‘i don’t want to sing another love song‘ – although if she really felt this way, then she’d have no album to record. As with all R. Kelly songs, there’s a key change towards the end, which Toni uses to inject a little extra power.
That song’s b-side I Love Me Some Him follows, taking the tempo down again, to a bass-heavy, slow RnB song. The production is polished, with crisp drums, delicate guitar-esque sections. It’s a fairly generic RnB ballad.
Crickets can be heard, along with an owl in the distance, as a piano leads us into In The Late Of Night. For a moment, it sounds like something from Lionel Richie’s 1983 album Can’t Slow Down, but then Toni’s vocals arrive. Kenny G is back again here for more saxophone duties. Again, Toni’s easily interchangeable with Mariah and Whitney. To be fair though, Toni’s performance is pretty credible, and this song would have acted as the perfect ending to this album…
..but in the name of marketing, we’ve got a ‘special international edition’ with 3 extra pumping remix tracks just to ruin the mood. The first of which is You’re Makin’ Me High (T’empo Mix). Breathy ‘you’re makin’ me high’ samples lead us into a pumping beat, as Toni’s vocals are laid over the top with ease. The result is pretty good, although the backing vocalists over-cook the chorus.
Penultimate track is Un-break My Heart (Classic Radio Mix), which sees another thumping beat and bassline, set alongside more prominent finger clicks and extra piano (reminding me a bit of Ce Ce Peniston‘s hit Finally). The song bounces along perfectly, and I can remember hearing this version on the radio.
The album closes with I Don’t Want To (Frankie Knuckles Radio Edit), a much more pop sounding version of the song. Piano plays a similar role here as it does in the previous mix, giving a pretty catchy spin on this track, and helping to reinforce Toni’s soaring vocals towards the end.
Over all, this album has surprised me. Granted, it’s an album of love songs from the get-go, but whilst some albums by Toni’s contemporaries can be similarly themed, they’re also often duller than this one.
There’s just enough slick production and style variations to help keep this album interesting, and she rightly found huge success with it, resulting in a Secrets tour.
The remixes are mostly good, although feel oddly placed after In The Late Of Night’s false album ending. Definitely worth a listen if you’re a Toni, Whitney, Mariah or Celine fan.
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 4 / 5
- 1997 UK CHART PEAK: #10, certified 2x Platinum.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.99 from a British Heart Foundation store.