People often say that real R&B is dead. Usually, when you investigate what they mean, they think today’s R&B has moved more towards Hip Hop or Dance, but what used to be R&B has gone.
There are plenty of R&B acts working on comebacks; TLC, Ginuwine, Az Yet, for instance. Other acts actually never left; SWV, H-Town, Boyz II Men. But the sound that dominated R&B in the 90s,has been missed by many.
The man behind a huge portion of the R&B of the 90s was Babyface. After a successful solo career, he went on to produce others and launched the careers of many new stars, as well as writing hits for established artists such as Madonna, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
His previous album, “Love, Marriage & Divorce” from 2014, reunited him with Toni Braxton and contained that old real R&B sound, but with his new album you would think he would have a clear mission to have the tender side of R&B return.
Still, “Return of the Tender Lover” is not an album completely filled with the trademark Babyface ballads that you may expect. Yes, there are ballads on there (“Exceptional”) and lots of mid-tempo tracks, but the overall feel of the album is somehow up beat, rather than super romantic or even sexy seductive.
The title refers to his second solo album, released in 1989, entitled “Tender Lover”. With his title, you would expect his announcing a major comeback, but even though the album is good, I wonder if it’s good enough to make the impact he was hoping for when he set out to mark his return. It holds no real surprises.
What Babyface does return, is his great melodic style in songs and vocals. He’s even singing in his highest regions in a couple of songs, but mainly “Fight For Love” has a slight Maxwell appeal to it, vocally…. in a Babyface kind of way. His voice is a lot lighter and thinner in these regions compared to Maxwell. Then again, the music on the track is also more airy and light. Still, it was the first comparison that came to mind.
It’s one of those albums that will absolutely appeal to people already familiar with Babyface, and people who already love the genre, but it’s not updated enough to appeal to a new, younger, audience and somehow, it doesn’t catch that old R&B feel either, for those who’d want to reminisce.
However, I don’t think Babyface was targeting a younger or new audience anyway. Recently, it was announced that music sales were still depending mostly on female buyers and that’s his market right there.