After nearly half a century in the music biz, Babyface (real name Kenneth Brian Edmonds) hasn’t got a lot left to prove as he returns with his ninth studio album Girls Night Out. The 63-year-oldsinger-songwriter and producer has already bagged an eye-watering 12 Grammy awards (plus double that in nominations), is the only person to win ‘producer of the year’ four times, co-founded iconic record label LaFace (who signed TLC, Usher amongst others) and has worked with countess legends – from Aretha Franklin to Beyoncé and Whitney to Madonna.
Over the decades our Ken has never been more than a blink away from the charts in one form or another. During the 80s he transformed New Jack Swing from its gritty urban origins to something altogether more soulful and accessible, a process he finessed during the 90s, leading to smashes such as When Can I See You and Every Time I Close My Eyes.
Babyface loves a collaboration, though, and that’s precisely what we get on Girls Night Out – 13 tracks co-written and performed with both established and emerging female R&B stars. It’s a musically restrained catalogue of relationship sagas that could just as easily be titled 13 Songs About Love and Hate.
Take the album’s first single Keeps on Fallin’ featuring rising British R&B star Ella Mai – a head-bopping upbeat love song about Mai’s ever-growing infatuation with her lover, which recently hit #1 on the US Adult R&B Chart. The track samples Tevin Campbell’s 1992 Can We Talk, giving it a classic 90s R&B sound but with a modern edge: looped drumbeats, intoxicating melodies, silky vocals, and a playful dialogue between Mai and Babyface. It has a sing-in-the-car type of vibe (as does the timeless Chris Brown-like track, Say Less, featuring the British artist Tiana Major9) perfectly illustrating the producer’s genius for intertwining the old with the new.
Next single, Game Over, featuring the up-and-coming Queen Naija is an ‘I need to break up with my toxic partner’ slow-jam song constructed like an old-school smooth R&B cut – think Destiny’s Child Temptation. Seamless, the album’s third hit-in-waiting is, well, an absolute banger featuring Kehlani, who laments the drunken, reckless behaviour of her partner. Given its subject matter, you might expect a fireworks display. Instead, Naija’s voice glides dreamily through each chorus, guided by intricate percussion and soft guitars, only sounding slightly edgy in the verses.
Fans won’t be disappointed. Ultimately, Girls Night Out reveals Babyface’s secret to a long, prolific production career: keeping up with the times, whilst paying homage to the sonic blueprint of his past – an inimitable recipe his many followers have been longing to taste again.
Writer and professional flautist Grace Twomey (MMus) performs regularly at gigs in South London where she’s based. All her areas of expertise include classical, pop, indie, latin and folk music.