Producer/musician/label owner/all round superstar Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds is back with his first solo album in eight years: Return of the Tender Lover, a tribute to, and commemoration of, his triple-platinum 1989 album The Tender Lover. Having written for such greats as Whitney Houston, Madonna and Michael Jackson, it’s fair to expect Babyface to bring impeccable production quality to any project he works on. And this album is no exception; combining slick beats, shimmering synths and lovesick lyrics, the songs bounce energetically from strength to strength.
From the soulful opening chords of We Found Love to Babyface’s honey-smooth vocal tones, the entire album is dripping in sonic decadence, infused with a kind of effortless buoyancy sure to keep toes tapping. The album is underpinned by an undeniable 80s influence, and at some points the glossy production threatens to become overwritten. “You’re just extraordinary, way above the ordinary/there ain’t no conversation, been that way since god’s creation,” he croons on emotional ballad Love and Devotion; it’s a credit to his mastery that his voice somehow retains a constant sense of authenticity even when verging on the overblown.
The album is an undoubtable return to Babyface’s trademark sound, recalling the brushed snares and snappy pop beats of his very first releases. It’s Babyface in his element, producing seamlessly crafted soul pop with a brilliant finish. True, it’s not exactly an exploration of a new sound – but with an aesthetic this good, why would he want to change a thing?