After the release of 2005’s barely promoted Libra, Toni Braxton followed Wayne Newton as the headline act at Las Vegas’ Flamingo Hotel and Casino, competed on Dancing with the Stars, and endured a variety of professional and personal setbacks. Braxton’s first album for Atlantic, Pulse was delayed over a year due to leaked material, which prompted the singer to record several new songs. None of the remaining collaborations with big-name artists made the cut, either. Even when low expectations are factored, Pulse is irrefutably satisfying. There’s a high level of conviction that does not waver, and it’s particularly impressive given that the album covers so many stages of a romantic relationship. Few others can pull off such powerful, drastically contrasting material -- certainly not in the course of one 40-minute album -- like Braxton. She hops from one extreme to the other during the first two songs. “Yesterday” is a bitter breakup ballad in which the teeth-clenched “I don’t love ya/Don’t need ya/Can’t stand ya no more” sounds very real, while “Make My Heart” is a rapturous club track put over the top by some of Braxton’s most athletic vocals. Relatability is no issue since Braxton is able to pull the listener into the songs. A couple ballads are sonically lukewarm and lyrically platitudinal, but even so, this is easily the singer’s best work since The Heat.
by Andy Kellman