REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/16/2009
Time for a slow dance? Enter Miss Drowsy herself, Toni Braxton, with her second LP, entitled Secrets. No less than three cuts went to #1 on Billboard’s club play chart in 1996, only after they had all been heavily remixed and turned into upbeat dance fare. The most well-known of them, “Un-Break My Heart,” ended up becoming the top-selling single of the year. The other two hits, “You’re Makin’ Me High” and “I Don’t Want To,” showed off Toni’s sultry side. Since ruling the airwaves in the '90s, she has found herself stuck in the same groove – something she should have learned by Anita Baker’s sad example a decade earlier. When you hear a line come from Toni like “I don’t want to sing another love song, baby,” all you can do is laugh and then ask, “Then why do you???”
What Secrets demonstrates is how a song originally starts out before being handed off to the famed remixers of the hour. Competition for the hottest music property can be fierce in the dance music industry, and Toni Braxton was certainly no exception. Hex Hector, Frankie Knuckles, and David Morales were the lucky ones chosen from countless other spinmeisters to transform mundane ballads into danceable hits. For examples of their work, you should definitely check out the Un-Break My Heart: The Remix Collection, where you can hear all the aforementioned hits, as well as four other tracks not featured on Secrets.
Not only was this sophomore effort Braxton’s last gasp, it also foretold the end of the road for smooth R&B producers L.A. Reid and Babyface. The ‘90s were definitely their time to shine, though Madonna’s Bedtime Stories was the only Babyface imprint that really did anything for me. The laid-back, bluesy approach that suited Toni Braxton to a T only made me yawn. Hearing these songs given the remix treatment was an improvement over the originals, which did nothing but keep Secrets sleepwalking its way through 12 tracks that all sounded the same. The one exception was “How Could An Angel Break My Heart,” which has a nice hymn-like quality to it, not to mention a killer sax solo by Kenny G.
That’s the thing about this kind of music…there just aren’t any real risks taken. Then again, unpredictability isn’t something that Toni Braxton or her producers were known for. The biggest risk Toni ever took was signing on for a season of Dancing With The Stars, but even that would prove to be too much of a demanding arena for her to succeed in. Blaming her lack of speed and finesse on a heart condition only made her an even more pitiful figure whose star had dimmed a long time ago. Constantly short of breath, it made me wonder if she could have been sick during the recording of Secrets, because it’s evident that she has problems holding notes or hitting the high ones.
For Toni Braxton to become so successful (even if it was for a short time) is one of the biggest surprises in the history of the music business. Her vocal range was extremely – and painfully – limited, as was her ability to change gears when necessary. Only studio wizardry of the dance music elite could turn this croaking frog into a disco diva. Just more evidence that miracles do happen.