The epitome of a mixed bag.
Daryl Easlea 2009-11-10
Selling more than 14 million albums worldwide, singer and actress Brandy Norwood’s second album established her as a late 90s superstar. Following up 1994’s eponymous debut, Never Say Never was a collection of smooth, mid-paced jams, which very much provide a snapshot of commercial RnB from the era.
Never Say Never is dominated by its second single, The Boy Is Mine, a duet with the then-white-hot soul diva Monica. Much was made of the duo having an alleged ‘beef’, whereas in reality they had never even met. It was thought appropriate to capitalise on their individual success and supposedly collective notoriety. With a more than knowing wink to Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s duet The Girl Is Mine from 1982, the track, like most of the album, sounds effortless. The single topped the US charts for an extraordinary 13 weeks in summer 1998.
Never Say Never could easily have been eclipsed by the scale of its lead single’s success, but its quality threshold, in the main, is set high. The title track is an exemplary piece of RnB, while the opener, Angel in Disguise, is minor-key, icy soul, rendered emotional by Brandy’s gospel-trained voice. The infectious UK number two single, Top of the World featuring Ma$e, highlights Brandy’s uniquely affecting yet somehow dispassionate style over its shuddering minimalist groove.
Working with session players the calibre of bassist Nathan East and David Foster on keyboards, Never Say Never was aimed at the widest audience possible. This was most evident on Have You Ever?, her second US number one. Written by Dianne Warren, the ballad sounds a little too formulaic and off-the-peg, aimed for the summit of the hit parade. The other strange choice is the verging-on-karaoke version of (Everything I Do) I Do It for You which, by closing the album, serves almost to undermine its triumph.
Ultimately, Never Say Never is the epitome of a mixed bag. However, given that a lot of RnB in the late 90s sounds like an ornate musical box revolving, the album is an intelligent brew that deviates sufficiently from that template and plays to Brandy and executive producer Rodney Jerkins’s considerable strengths.