For Toni Braxton, maturity is no guarantee of stability.
“I can’t believe it — we’re going through this again,” the veteran R&B artist sings in “Sex & Cigarettes,” about a woman whose unfaithful partner has stopped even trying to hide what he smells like when he climbs into their bed.
“We’re too old, and I thought you’d outgrown this.”
An uncluttered piano ballad with plenty of room for Braxton’s throaty vocals, “Sex & Cigarettes” is the title track from the singer’s strong new album, her first following a four-year stretch she spent focusing on her television career and dealing with the effects of lupus.
Last time out, Braxton teamed with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, the writer and producer who helped make her a star in the mid-1990s, for “Love, Marriage & Divorce,” a set of proudly grown-up duets that won a Grammy Award for R&B album.
And Babyface returns here for two cuts: “FOH,” whose title shortens an unprintable command that ends “… outta here,” and “My Heart,” about a friendship certain not to work as anything more.
But if Braxton, 50, collaborates more broadly on “Sex & Cigarettes,” she’s still zeroed in on the rich emotional territory she explored on “Love, Marriage & Divorce.”
In the plush “Long As I Live,” produced by Antonio Dixon, she describes the pain of seeing an ex start over with his new lover; “Deadwood” looks past that torment to promise, “I may be down, but I’ll turn it ’round,” over a slinky electro-acoustic arrangement by Fred Ball.
For “Missin’,” Braxton pairs with Tricky Stewart (who produced Rihanna’s “Umbrella”) for a thumping club jam in which she finds a guy who’s got what she needs.
Even in her excitement, though, Braxton’s singing — low and smoky, with just the right rawness around the edges — suggests she can sense trouble on the horizon.
She’s been here before; she knows how these things go.
“Sex & Cigarettes”