“Marriage should be a duet – when one sings, the other claps.”
This sentiment is echoed so eloquently in Love, Marriage, & Divorce – the first duet album by long-time creative partners Toni Braxton and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. In a self-referential album that explores the many facets and stages of intimate relationships, Braxton and Babyface complement each other to the point of perfection. The husky contralto voice of the ‘Un-Break My Heart’ songstress blends smoothly with the tender guidance of Babyface’s falsetto range. Together the two artists combine to produce one of their strongest albums in recent memory, and though the album is not without its faults, it is a privilege to see two consummate professionals back together on the world stage.
The album is easily characterised into two main components: old-school R&B melodies, and raw, heartfelt outcries of emotion. While the throwback melodies transport the listener back to a simpler time, the emotional and lyrical content serve only to confound the senses. With no sense of time or structure, emotions range from bitterness to heartache, and from hopefulness to despair, mirroring the ever-changing nature of relationships.
The album opens with ‘Roller Coaster,’ a track that conceptualises the idea of being eternally trapped in the cycle of commitment; “but I need you, can’t stand you, want you… back and forth… what should we do?” This track sets up the remainder of the album – foreshadowing the inevitable destruction that all relationships are doomed to repeat. The album takes a sudden turn with following track ‘Sweat,’ which proves that sometimes hate sex is the only viable option remaining to “forget you were ever mad.”
‘Hurt You’ is unquestionably the most poignant moment on the album, with the singers confessing that they “never meant to break your heart.” The subject matter for this album is presumably derived from the failed marriages experienced by both partners, authenticating the lyrics being expressed. The few solo songs on the album offer interesting insights into individual perspectives on love and relationships. Babyface’s solo expresses a tender, caring declaration to leave, while Toni exhibits only anger and bitterness on “I Wish.” Reminiscent of Braxton’s earlier work, the piano driven tune contemplates various spiteful scenarios in the aftermath of a failed relationship; “I hope she gives you a disease… but not enough to make you die.” Representing a rare moment of respite from the theme of heartache, Braxton and Babyface also display some versatility on ‘Heart Attack.’ The upbeat disco track, which shows hints of Daft Punk production and enunciation, demonstrates that the two artists can remain relevant in the world of contemporary R&B.
Although Braxton often outshines Babyface with her strident vocals, forcing him to serve the role of back-up singer at various junctures, their voices are the perfect opposition in power and tenderness. Together, they are the ideal team to sing on the subject of Love, Marriage & Divorce.