Babyface's Def Jam debut, Return of the Tender Lover is also his first solo album of original material in a decade. After the one that preceded it, Grown & Sexy (2005), there was the covers set Playlist (2007) and the Grammy-winning Toni Braxton collaboration Love, Marriage & Divorce (2014). While this is titled in reference to his triple platinum 1989 release, there are no attempts at rewriting "It's No Crime" or "Whip Appeal." Instead, Return of the Tender Lover is inspired more by the crowd-pleasing "feel good" performance model perfected by recent tour mates like Charlie Wilson and Maze. Some echoes of the latter's gently uplifting, summer evening grooves -- such as "Golden Time of Day" and "We Are One" -- can be heard in "We've Got Love," "Exceptional," and "Something Bout You," all of which are highlights that still sound like Babyface songs. For the cheerful "Walking on Air," he switches it up with a Smokey Robinson nod that features a reunion with El DeBarge (whose Heart, Mind & Soul was dominated by his contributions). "I Want You," another track that involves a reconnection, easily incorporates background vocals from After 7 (a group that made its first and greatest splash with Babyface/L.A. Reid magic). Short, sweet, and steady at nine songs that vary little in quality and sentiment -- it's resolutely smooth, all about romance, devotion, and perseverance -- Return of the Tender Lover is among Babyface's best. Credit him and songwriting partners Daryl Simmons and Kameron Glasper, along with hall of fame-level session musicians like Nathan East and Greg Phillinganes, for ignoring the increasingly narrow sound of commercial R&B. They've done so with a satisfying album that sounds as if its organic making necessitated little exertion.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman