Does being grown up mean being grim and morose? That seems to be 19-year-old Brandy's take on the situation. When she cut her debut album, "Brandy," in 1994, the Mississippi-born singer sounded joyous. Unlike many peers who seem to think they'll lose cool points for smiling, Brandy brought a wholesome, sunny naivete to her work that actually enhanced hip-hop-laced hits such as "Baby" and "I Wanna Be Down."

Fast-forward to 1998 and Brandy--who has solidly proven herself as a successful TV actress in the interim--doesn't sound as sunny or confident. While her voice reveals a range her first album only alluded to, none of the tunes here (aside from the gorgeously sung "Tomorrow" and "Almost Doesn't Count") really exploits her talents.

Is a downcast and gloomy Brandy what her fans really want to hear? This teen's upbeat sweetness was a welcome relief from the hip-hop world's often unrelenting harshness. It's a quality she shouldn't be so quick to relinquish in her desire to explore more mature sounds.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).


Hear the Music

* Excerpts from Brandy's "Never Say Never" and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: clips

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