Jonathan Bogart: In 1993, when “Another Sad Love Song” and “Breathe Again” were on the radio, they made me uncomfortable for reasons I couldn’t quite pin down at the time but now I think was my teenage white male reluctance to admit that older women (no, really old, like thirty) could have a rich interior life. Braxton wasn’t a diva-next-door like Mariah Carey, or an inhuman monstrosity of perfection like Whitney Houston; she was my first real taste of r&b, which meant she was sexier, womanlier, blacker than anything I’d ever heard before. She still sounds far more grown-up than I, or the rest of pop, will ever be.
John Seroff: Braxton’s adult contemporary vibe has always left me entirely cold, and “Hands Tied” doesn’t do anything to change that. It’s interminably paced, overly polished and awkwardly husky in its phrasing, tone and lyrics.
Al Shipley: Toni needs to be more careful about that sultry lower register that’s served her so well over the years turning into an unbecoming croak, but otherwise she’s still got the goods to turn out yet another sad love song.
Chuck Eddy: I like how the urban adult tastefulness is countered by the words’ not-so-subliminal bondage quotient. Better than average ebb and flow, too — almost makes up for the inevitable lack of hooks.
Michaelangelo Matos: I don’t know if this is a good record or a bad record or what, I just have to say that I’m… impressed, maybe, that in 2010 we have a upstanding member of the R&B community rounding up the backing vocalists, the state-of-the-art Auto-tuner, and singing a paean to, well, let her tell us: “I can love you, love you, love you with my hands tied.” If that’s a metaphor, I can’t imagine for what. If it’s not, it’s an advertisement for Kink.com. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON IN THIS WORLD?
Hillary Brown: A fascinating expression of female dominance that only becomes clearer when you watch the video, which seems designed to convey the message “Toni Braxton is still hot… effortlessly.” Well, she is, and while the melody here isn’t tremendously strong, I’d forgotten how her voice can sound like a massage. Here, it boasts of her ability to love in any circumstances and plays at being submissive while, in fact, providing the thrust for the entire song. Points off for repetitiveness, which makes the message stronger but the song less so.
Alfred Soto: The first couple of lines in the chorus are some weak sauce, unworthy of one of the most underrated vocalists of the last twenty years. Then she relaxes and lets her buttery voice do the work while her hands are tied. She imbues the verses “I was the one trying to patch it up/Now I watch them say I’ve had enough” with a detachment commensurate with the low-end gulp she prefers to sneak past tricky polysyllables. If you like a certain kind of late thirtysomething “adult” pop, this will substitute for new Anita Baker in a pinch.
Martin Skidmore: It’s ten years since she had a big hit, and I don’t think this will change that. It isn’t sexy or exciting or moving — it’s kind of stately and restrained, with her voice only leaving an easy deep tone in a few places. It’s okay, but a bit of a bore.
Alex Ostroff: I hate to hate on something that opens with that beautiful cascading piano line, but “Hands Tied” is basically a mediocre outtake from Brandy’s last album, right down to the repeated phrases in the chorus, multitracked vocal harmonies and the background electric guitar counterpoint. There’s potential for it to grow on me, but at the moment it just sits there, stately and distanced. Braxton’s rich lower register emotes the hell out of what she’s given, mind you.