Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Tuesday, March 23 2010, 15:40 GMT
By Nick Levine, Music Editor
Record sales in excess of 40 million, a trophy shelf groaning under the weight of six Grammys, international smashes with the likes of 'Breathe Again', 'He Wasn't Man Enough' and of course 'Un-Break My Heart', then... nothing. But now she's back! Last week Toni Braxton touched down in London for an exclusive playback of her new album - it's called Pulse and it's her first in almost five years - so we just had to grab the opportunity for a catch-up.
How does it feel to be back? Any nerves?
"It feels great, no nerves! I've been looking forward to it for some time. I didn't think I'd be able to perform again after my heart scare, so I'm really excited."
How serious was your heart scare?
"It was pretty scary. I was hospitalised for about 14 days. The first diagnosis was, 'You have... some long word I can't remember anymore'. I said, 'What's the cure?' and they said, 'Well, you need a heart transplant'. I was cuckoo for about a day or two, but then they came back and said, 'We misdiagnosed you - what you had was actually a heart attack'. I was like, 'I'll take that! Yeah!' I was actually very fortunate that it was just a little heart attack."
How long did your recovery take?
"It takes a while because you have to go through cardiac rehab. If you break your knee, you have therapy on your knee, and it's the same for your heart. They teach you how to lead a healthier lifestyle and put tubes and wires all over you so they can see how your heart does under stress."
Did you have to change your lifestyle to any great extent?
"Slightly at first, but now medication maintains it. I can live a totally normal life and do everything I want to do just as long as I take my medication. My body will give me signals if it gets weak or fatigued, so I know when I need to take a break. It's OK."
It's been five years since your last album - are you happy to call this a comeback?
"I'm fine with 'comeback' - whatever it needs to be called! It all happened very fast for me first time around, so I never really got to enjoy it, whereas now I'm really taking my time and smelling it and living it all fully."
How long have you been working on the album?
"It's like a bottomless cup of coffee! I signed my deal with Atlantic Records when I did Dancing With The Stars in September 2008 and I've been working on it since then. I must have recorded more than 30 tracks for it by now!"
Have you decided on the final tracklisting?
"We're doing that as we speak - I think we have about seven songs confirmed, but we haven't got the ten yet. The album was supposed to come out in February, but we held it back because seven of the ten songs we picked were leaked. We decided to go back to the studio, record four or five more songs and then pick. Now we send everything via Federal Express - nothing's going through the internet - and that's why none of the new songs have leaked so far."
What's the balance between ballads and club cuts like?
"It can be challenging getting that balance right, but I think we did a really good job on [my 1996 album] Secrets. Everyone forgets that 'You're Makin' Me High' was on the same album as 'Un-Break My Heart'. You have to make sure it sequences well, because you don't want to have a dance song and then all of a sudden a big, classic ballad."
The first UK single is a track called 'Yesterday'. What's the story behind it?
"Well, I heard the song and it was written from a guy's perspective, so I said, 'Nice song - let me rework it'. I changed it up and made it a girl's song. I'm going through a separation, and it's not my story per se, but I definitely can relate to it in the sense of starting over. I wanted to have strength when I sang it - I didn't want to be a wimp!"
It feels like time for you to record a big female-female duet. Is there anything being lined up?
"Me and Alicia Keys are talking about it - well, my people are talking to Alicia's people because I play piano and obviously she plays too. I've been playing since I was about nine years old so I really can play. Maybe we could do something at an award show and people will see us collaborate that way? We'll see."
How about our own diva, Leona Lewis?
"I love her! I prefer her first album to the new one though. Actually, the possibility of she and I touring together was mentioned when I was in New York a couple of months ago for the VH1 Divas show. Her people were talking to my people and said maybe we should put on a tour together, so who knows? I'm just excited to have these options and possibilities open to me."
Finally, do you still enjoy singing 'Un-Break My Heart'?
"I actually do - though I don't really have to sing it at concerts now because the fans sing it! I just sing 'Don't leave me in all this pain' and it's over! The audience jumps in and pretty much sings the whole song. They do wait for the last note though, so I try to really nail that one!"
Toni Braxton returns with 'Yesterday' on May 3.