This Babyface article was written by Lucas Oakeley, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Ben Kendall.
His first solo album in over a decade, Babyface’s ‘Return of the Tender Lover’ is a satisfactory return to form, and a return to the essential basics of what makes R&B tick. The album’s title is a reference to his hugely successful sophomore album ‘Tender Lover’, and it is easy to see the influence of his earlier work that permeates throughout this latest effort.
Going back to the drawing board, ‘Return of the Tender Lover’ opens with the soulful sing-along ‘We’ve Got Love’ – a track that harkens back to the days where radios across the country were blessed with the seductive tones of Boyz II Men and R Kelly. Despite its obvious nostalgic appeal, the album, for the most part, is still modern enough to evade suffering from sentimentalism. A definite feel-good vibe is set out from the get-go, with the rest of Babyface’s album certainly following suit, as the radio-friendly ‘Fight for Love’ reverberates with a catchy chorus that is sure to get you tapping on your steering wheel on a drive home.
‘Exceptional’ slows the tempo and introduces some heart-broken guitar to accompany Babyface’s soulful crooning, to produce an infinitely sexy affair. Collaborations with El DeBarge on ‘Walking on Air’ and After 7 on ‘I Want You’ are both very well done, and prevent the album’s sound from becoming too stagnated. The former effort is particularly impressive, as its classic sound is honey-drizzled with El DeBarge’s unique tenor, adding a complexity of harmony that is unfortunately devoid from some of the album’s other rather repetitive songs. Babyface’s reliance on the ballad, inhibits the album ever so slightly in its replay-value, causing it to be the sort of the sound you’d play in the background rather than foreground, as many of the tracks do admittedly start to seep into one the further you delve into the album.
Despite this, tracks such as ‘Love and Devotion’ and ‘Standing Ovation’ still stand out for their overt sincerity, the latter containing lyrics such as: “It’s not even the worth the challenge, I know that I would lose”, which mix up the atmosphere created as Babyface moves from the comfort of generic statements pertaining love, to show a rawer sense of vulnerability not often heard in R&B. The album itself is good and certainly worthy of a listen, however it does lack in terms of an X-factor, making it a highly satisfactory effort, but one that should have branched out a bit and brought slightly more to the table, especially considering it has been 10 years in the making.
‘The Return of the Tender Lover’ achieves its mission statement as a return of tender R&B, however it would have benefited from being a tad more adventurous.
‘Return of the Tender Lover’ is out now via Def Jam Records