Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Completing the Cycle: Brandy's "Full Moon" Turns 10

Ever since Brandy Norwood hit the ground running in 1994 with Brandy, she stood apart. With a maturity and presence older women lacked in modern R&B, Brandy's voice charged hits like "Baby," "Almost Doesn't Count," and "Have You Ever" with experience that resonated. That her equally successful forays into acting, both in television and film, never cheapened her commitment to her musical explorations solidified her as a singer first.

When Full Moon (Atlantic) appeared in February 2002, it arrived when Norwood needed to make a declaratory position on what her music could accomplish in a new decade. Looking back to this album, Norwood stood at a crossroads, translating her adulthood journey for the willing to partake in.

The History
Norwood stayed occupied between her multi-platinum winner Never Say Never (1998) and Full Moon. The wake of Never Say Never was wide and stretched well into 1999 with its singles. Additionally, Norwood wrapped her longtime television series Moesha in 2000. Movie roles also beckoned in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (alongside Jennifer Love-Hewitt) and Double Platinum (alongside Diana Ross). Amid Norwood's acting scores, it was late 2000 when the stirrings of Full Moon began to form.

The Record
Norwood's studio stalwart Rodney Jerkins, alias Darkchild, returned with his collective to redefine and restructure her sound. The production/writing roster wouldn't stop with Darkchild, Norwood was joined by Keith Crouch (a prominent fixture on her debut), Mike City, Jason Derlatka, Stuart Brawley, and Warryn Campbell. Norwood herself co-penned six of the cuts that appeared on the album, a continuation of her hands-on approach from Never Say Never.

During Full Moon's formative years, the Darkchild style coined with Norwood progressed and became popular with other artists. Later, this became a point of contention with Norwood. Regardless, major hits with the Spice Girls ("Holler") and Michael Jackson ("You Rock My World") were indebted to a "tech-savvy" line of thought rather than Darkchild's open ended work during the late' 90's. Darkchild's (then) new sound crystallized with his vocal muse (Brandy) on her junior affair. The stated "tech-savvy" approach, a hybrid of hip-hop, R&B, and pop wrapped in a glitchy electronic sheen, drove the cyclical concept of Full Moon. Based on love's phases, the thematic stages employed combinations of floorfillers and lowlit ballads. Norwood's vocal blossoming on Full Moon portrayed a rich, cocoa tone with wild adaptability to any song situation.

Whether imparting the intimate organics of "When You Touch Me" or "Like This," Norwood bridged authenticity and artistry. Said transformative skill stormed in the impressive "I Thought," an angry attack that shifted into a harder gear and utilized Norwood's lower register. The songs themselves acted as amazing crafts that hopscotched between mecha-R&B and plush soundscapes.

The grinding experimentation of the lead-off single "What About Us?" gave harsh walls of distorted sound. Adventurous forays into British two-step ("All In Me"), urban exotica ("Apart"), and "sounds like a sample" perfection ("It's Not Worth It") exemplified artist/producer unity honed to a killing point. Drawing attention back to "It's Not Worth It," the longing, background voice on the song is indeed not sampled. Rather, they were featured ad-libs from the King of Pop himself, the late Michael Jackson.

At 18 tracks, the record did become a victim of the "CD era" filler. The notion of giving the consumer "bang for their buck" sacrificed the inherent cohesion and flow of the album in the execution. As such, songs like "Anybody," "He Is," "Love Wouldn't Count Me Out" were decent, if unneeded additions to a plentiful recording. Length issues aside, Full Moon announced Brandy Norwood as an adult woman controlling how her personal narratives reached her audiences.

The Impact
The first single lifted from Full Moon was the aggressive "What About Us?” The feminist manifesto proved to be the right choice as it sailed into Top 10 placements on both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart (#7) and U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Chart (#3). The parent album appeared a month later on the U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Chart (#1) and the U.S. Billboard 200 Album Chart (#2). Commercially, Full Moon did not usurp Never Say Never, but wasn’t a failure by any means. The complete sales impressions in the United States rank at 1.05 million copies and awarded platinum certification to the LP.

Internationally, Full Moon opened new doors for Norwood. The United Kingdom saw her junior effort become her first U.K. Top 10 landing (#9), the British Phonographic Industry gifted Full Moon gold status. Full Moon procured gold units in Canada and Japan as well.

"Full Moon" and "He Is" were selected as follow-up singles later in 2002. The title song charted U.S. Pop (#18) and U.S. R&B (#16), and was a sizable U.S. dance hit (#2). Promotion for Full Moon halted when Norwood disclosed her pregnancy and liaison to Robert "Big Bert" Smith, the father of her child. Smith a member of the Darkchild production outfit was kin to Jerkins himself. This connection between Smith and Norwood gave Full Moon's tender sides blatant poignancy, their relationship born out of the creation of the record.

Critically, Full Moon received a warm welcome. Sal Cinquemani, of Slant Magazine, commented:

Full Moon is certainly a forward-minded album, lifting Brandy's typically schmaltzy brand of pop-R&B to a new, edgier plateau. With tracks like "I Thought" and the offbeat lead single "What About Us," an assessment of post-break-up collateral damage, Rodney Jerkins dresses up his signature bass-heavy production in gritty, oft-sadistic outfits.

Craig Seymour of Entertainment Weekly heaped praise on Norwood's voice expansion:

Her deep, warm voice now has a scratchy, evocative edge that suggests maturity and the high price that often comes with it.

"What About Us?"
Directed By: Dave Meyers

Full Moon marked a beginning and end in Norwood's musical pathways. Norwood separated from music partner Rodney Jerkins to seek new avenues in her sound advancement, see Afrodisiac (2004), Norwood's last outing for Atlantic Records. Splitting from Robert Smith after the birth of their daughter may have placed friction on her relationship with Jerkins too. Jerkins and Norwood wouldn’t work in each other's artistic spheres until 2008's Human (Epic).

The legacy of Full Moon is the portrait of Brandy Norwood finding herself as a young adult woman. Brandy's recasting of the "B-Rocka" legend helped it go from good, graduating to great. Four and a half out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: Full Moon is readily in print. For current information on Brandy, visit: 4Ever Brandy.-QH]


Moanerplicity said...

Without question, her vocal gift is a unique one, so rarely seen or heard from women even double her age. Brandy, to me, always sounded like an old soul from the same school as Gladys with that husky, time-worn, been-hurt-but-not-impossibly-damaged-by-life vibe which reps the best in R & B.

Even though the hit single "Full Moon (a personal fave of mine) speaks in the trendy-hip lingo of the time "Get it crackin' if ya like" it also rings w/ a certain knowing & maturity that one comes to expect from Brandy.

Hard to believe that this disc is already over a decade old. I have a feeling that we haven't yet heard the best from Brandy.

Nice article/review/retrospective, Q!


Anonymous said...

I think both Brandy and Aaliyah were amazing artists. Both of them had forward thinking musically and took substantial risks with their music. Monica, on the other hand, always played it "safe" to me.

Craig Seymour said...

Thanks for mentioning my review - Craig : )