Toni Braxton is getting back to her old self, recovering from a health scare and returning to her musical roots.
Don’t call Toni Braxton’s new album a comeback. It’s true that for the last decade, Braxton — once among the biggest pop megastars on the planet thanks to smash 1990s ballads like “Un-Break My Heart” and “Breathe Again” — has focused more on raising sons Diezel and Denim and recovering from microvascular angina (a blocked blood flow in the heart) than on topping the music charts. And more recently, she’s had to deal with a split from her husband, musician Keri Lewis (an event she addresses with a simple, cheerful “we separated, but we’re still the best friends ever”).
Despite all that, the 43-year-old singer never stopped working. She released three albums in the 2000s, although the last two — 2002’s More Than a Woman and 2005’s Libra, on which she dabbled in faster-paced hip-hop — were commercial disappointments. She then headlined at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino for two years and appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2008.
On her new album, Pulse, Braxton returns to the slow, sexy songs that first made her famous. We spoke with her about the new project, her health and her sons.
The tone and texture has changed after having kids and just getting older. There have been one or two songs where I’ve had to lower the key [in performances]. I had to lower “Another Sad Love Song” just a bit so I could reach that powerful note at the end. I’ll cheat a little bit.
How would you describe the new album?
It’s eclectic. It’s probably a combination of all my great songs, like “Breathe Again” and “Are You Man Enough for Me?” However, it’s not as hip-hop [as my last albums]. I love hip-hop music, but it doesn’t work for me.
I’ve read that you did Dancing with the Stars to improve your breathing so you could do longer shows and more performances. Did it achieve those goals?
Actually, I did it for my heart. [Before the show,] I was afraid to live. I was afraid to walk down the street. I was afraid to play with my kids. I didn’t want to do anything. I was really depressed. While I was in cardiac rehabilitation, I met this older lady who said, “You just have to get out there.” I just did it to get a taste of life again.
Did it work?
It definitely worked. It was hard. Every show, my cardiologist was there. They would check my pulse, my blood pressure. They would say, “Oh, gosh, it’s a little higher than we want it to be. Just relax.” They would do these little breathing exercises to calm me down. Some days I would think, “Oh my God, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.”
How is your heart now? Are you back in shape to perform shows?
I’m definitely over the hump, but I’m only up to an hour and 35 minutes [per show], so I have to get over my two-hour mark. I get really tired.
Did you ever consider retiring?
No. I love touring. That’s my favorite part — the performing part. I’d hate to miss that.
The last time we spoke, four years ago, your boys were 2 and 4. My notes from that interview are filled with Elmo references.
Not as much Elmo! They’re past the Elmo phase. But they do listen to Jay-Z all the time. When they hear Mom on the radio, they turn it. Mommy’s not cool at all anymore.