It's not quite being asked to perform at next year's Super Bowl, but for an R&B star who's faced no shortage of personal and professional tumult over the last few years, Brandy's ascent to the No. 2 spot on iTunes' album chart Tuesday afternoon probably feels an awful lot like validation.
The singer's first solo disc since 2008's coolly received "Human," "Two Eleven" openly invites that kind of speculation. "It seemed I had it all, that's what they thought," Brandy sings in the album's heartfelt opener, "Wildest Dreams." "But I was peeling like paint on the wall / I had to cover up the hurt," she continues. Elsewhere, song titles such as "Do You Know What You Have," "Can You Hear Me Now" and "No Such Thing as Too Late" suggest a serious determination to get back on the right track.
Brandy picked some capable -- and unexpected -- collaborators to help her do that, including Frank Ocean, who co-wrote the very Frank Ocean-ish "Scared of Beautiful," and M.I.A.'s producer, Switch, who's presumably responsible for making Brandy's "Slower" sound like an outtake from Stereolab's "Dots and Loops."
Sample-wise, "Two Eleven" proves equally surprising, with cuts based on work by Swedish electro-pop lady Lykke Li and Japanese polymath Ryuichi Sakamoto. (Sadly, "Hardly Breathing" does not turn out to be Brandy reimagining the "Glee"-endorsed soft-rock hit by Duncan Sheik.)
Lead single "Put It Down," which you can hear below, follows a more conventional path, complete with obligatory Chris Brown cameo. But those iTunes downloads aren't going to sell themselves, folks.