Review: Babyface and Brian McKnight are tender lovers on an old-school mission

Late last week, Babyface, the veteran R&B star, took to Steve Harvey's syndicated radio show to premiere a new solo single, "We've Got Love." A typically handsome mid-tempo number with plush keys and muscular bass, it's the lead single from an upcoming Babyface album, "Return of the Tender Lover," his first solo disc since the covers record "Playlist" in 2007.

That title, as fans know, nods to "Tender Lover," Babyface's triple-platinum 1989 album. (It's the one that spawned the classic slow jam "Whip Appeal.") But in happy news for people prone to worrying that this kind of R&B has gone out of fashion, Babyface isn't the only such romantic staging a comeback.

The day after "We've Got Love" appeared, Brian McKnight released "Uh Oh Feeling," the first taste from an album he's set to release early next year. Together the songs suggest that the much-discussed establishment of a new R&B vanguard — consisting of artists like Frank Ocean, the Weeknd and FKA Twigs — hasn't put the old-timers out of business. 

John Famiglietti, left, front man Jake Duzsik, and Jupiter Keyes of the L.A. experimental band Health performing at the Echo in Los Angeles on July 22, 2015.


For starters, the veterans display little appetite here for the kind of sonic innovation that marks their successors' digital-era work; they're happy to burnish familiar forms using familiar tools. In a statement announcing the release of "Uh Oh Feeling," McKnight was said to be "taking it back to basics with the new album, using all real instruments." A statement from Babyface's label similarly trumpeted the fact that he "plays on every track" on "Return of the Tender Lover"; the album is full of his "amazing and widely praised guitar work," the statement went on.

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