tue 16/07/2019

CD: Mary J Blige - Strength of a Woman | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Mary J Blige - Strength of a Woman

CD: Mary J Blige - Strength of a Woman

Can the hip hop soul survivor settle into elder stateswoman role on album 13?

Profound truths: Mary J Blige

Mary J Blige has a voice that was built to age gracefully. Gutsy, churchy, sometimes rough, it was miles away from the over-trained melismatics of the Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston imitators of the Nineties, or the velvet-toned ingenues that Aaliyah ushered in – and 25 years on from her debut album it certainly stands apart from the mannered Rihanna imitators of the current young generation. There was always a sense in which she was a throwback to an older soul tradition, and as such her singing style has a timelessness that some of her contemporaries might struggle to achieve.

And her artistic persona seems to be settling into a good sort of a groove, too. Where her Nineties work used hip hop’s aggression and the raw edges of that voice to deal with the pain of addiction, depression and violent relationships to devastating effect, since then  starting with the emblematic and brilliant song and album “No More Drama”  she’s documented a process of healing and maturation. Sometimes, with the traditional grim irony of pop culture, this later work has lacked the impact of the early self-evisceration, but she’s given some butt-kicking performances along the way.

Now on album 13, there’s no doubt that Blige is prone to the platitudes that tend to come with rehab and calming down  but it’s the measure of the singer that phrases that could be trite in other hands sound like profound truths as she hollers them out. There’s an awful lot of waving in the rear view mirror to past loves, an awful lot of re-affirmation of strength and hope, but with big and bashy hip hop beats both old and new in style, and Blige’s sheer commitment, it’s all pretty rousing. Some big characters have walk-on parts  Kanye West, Missy Elliot, DJ Khaled, Quavo from young guns Migos  but none of them can steal the show from hip hop soul’s original grande dame. OK, the album, like so many rap and R&B collections, sprawls a little at 16 tracks, but this is a petty complaint. There’s enough powerful stuff now to make it worth revisiting.

Some big characters have walk-on parts but none of them can steal the show


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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