Brandy

Afrodisiac (Atlantic)

If memory serves, Aaliyah is dead -- killed in what appears to have been one of the most preventable plane crashes ever. So it's something of a shock when a new tune called "Who Is She 2 U" kicks off with an intro by Timbaland, Aaliyah's favorite producer, that's remarkably similar to the one on her biggest hit, "Try Again." The main difference? In "Try Again," Timbaland mutters "Baby Girl," Aaliyah's nickname; in "Who Is She 2 U," he says, "Brandy."

So it goes throughout Afrodisiac, Brandy's latest, and that's too bad, because the Woman With the Far-Apart Eyes seems poised for an artistic breakthrough. From a lyrical standpoint, she comes across as a convincingly thoughtful twenty-something, not Moesha playing grownup. On "Who I Am," for instance, she sorts through the wreckage of her recent divorce, displaying a hard-earned wisdom in lines that thank her ex for the tears and stress because "I'm a better woman nowŠ. All you did was help the next man." Her voice bespeaks experience, too, intermittently displaying a becoming rasp that deepens the emotional quality of her singing. Unfortunately, Timbaland, who helms the majority of the tracks here, not only fails to break any new sonic ground, but spends most of cuts such as "I Tried" revisiting previous glories, thereby reducing Brandy to an Aaliyah surrogate.

Contributions from Kanye West on the rapturous "Talk About Our Love" help shake things up a bit, and even the most familiar-sounding ditties are never less than agreeable. In the end, though, Afrodisiac smells like the past, not the future.

 
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