Because she's a platinum-selling, multimedia pop star who at 19 can easily hold her own against the likes of Whitney Houston, it's tempting to reach for the D-word when describing Brandy. But diva-hood is about sweeping gestures and showstopping histrionics, neither of which is much in evidence on Never Say Never.
It's not as if she doesn't have the pipes for it. Although her soft, smoky voice is better suited to a croon, there are moments in the gospel-fired ''One Voice'' that find her effortlessly raising the roof. But she'd rather play it low-key and go with the groove, so that even the Bryan Adams emote-a-thon ''Everything I Do (I Do It for You)'' ends up more funky than fiery.
When Brandy has it out with Monica in the backstabbing ''The Boy Is Mine,'' there's none of the soul-baring theatrics we'd get if Faith Evans and Mary J. Blige had gone at it. Instead, the two younger women play second fiddle to the steady-thumping bass, keeping their voices so low you'd think they were afraid a teacher might overhear them.
Musically, it's hard to argue with Brandy's deference to the rhythm, especially when she rides one of producer Rodney Jerkins itchily propulsive tracks (think Timbaland crossed with Jam & Lewis). But as much as that might up the album's dance quotient, it flattens its emotional range, until the romantic bliss of ''Happy,'' the dogged determination of ''Never Say Never,'' and the conflicted affection of ''Angel in Disguise'' all end up sounding pretty much the same. By album's end, you almost wish she'd pitch a diva fit -- if only to prove there's some passion in her soul. B
-- J.D. Considine
[BOX] Brandy Never Say Never ATLANTIC