Mary J. Blige - My Life Music Album Reviews

Mary J. Blige - My Life Music Album Reviews
Twenty-five years after its release, the R&B stalwart’s occasionally tedious second album remains a lovable record whose flaws only deepen its charms.

In 1994, the self-styled Queen of Hip-Hop Soul understood she had competition. TLC melded their bubblegum instincts to post-New Jack Swing beats. En Vogue flirted with rock guitar workouts. Whitney Houston was already a statue in the park admired for her architecture but taken for granted. Yet thanks to persistence and flexibility, Blige remains influential because she never assumed the masochism that became her lodestar requires sad, airless albums. Her work is morose, not numb. No matter how intensely she abases herself before lovers who don’t tire of leaving or underestimating her, Blige’s flinty egoism triumphs. No multi-platinum R&B singer has used the language of self-help as sword and shield better.
Sandwiched between the buoyant debut What’s the 411? (1992) and the austere, inevitable divadom of Share My World (1997), My Life positions Blige as heiress to an R&B fortune, thanks in large part to the sampling acumen of Bad Boy’s Hitmen team members Chucky Thompson and Sean “Puffy” Combs. There's Isaac Hayes and Barry White, Roy Ayres and Slick Rick—history as group therapy. These ancestral voices reassure but offer subtle contrasts, too. The title track interpolates the hook and ascending three-note keyboard from Ayers’ 1976 “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” creating a healthy tension between Blige’s blue mood and the sample’s shafts of light. On the other hand, “Mary Jane (All Night Long)” finds her and the source material in harmony: by brightening Rick James’ original synth-flute line, Thompson and Combs give Blige the chance for some old school scatting over the outro. A ’90s fly girl hearkening back to Ella Fitzgerald over a Reagan-era jam, Blige had learned how to contextualize her melancholy.

The 25th-anniversary edition confirms the novelty if not radicalism of the Hitmen’s approach: R&B as tradition and living history. Hayes and White, after all, had long stopped scoring pop crossovers; here was a Black woman artist modernizing them as part of glistening triple-platinum product. The presence of Smif-N-Wessun and LL Cool J on the second disc’s remixes attest to her dialogue with hip-hop; Blige had no interest in settling for Anita Baker’s market share. And who knows how many young listeners gave rap a try after Combs and Thompson wove Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man’s “The What” into a transformed “I’m Goin’ Down”?

While pairing artists for the sake of consolidating streams is the way the business works in the 21st century, the guest spots expose My Life’s often ho-hum songwriting. Belters like Blige rely on audience submission: Admire the voice, ignore the material. Tensile, brassy, and confident, her mezzo-soprano has little warmth. She’s stingy with shows of compassion. Less gifted predecessors compressed Blige’s whole career into five minutes, as Karyn White did with “Superwoman.” When Blige out-sings on tracks like “Don’t Go,” her technique strands her. Indeed, she has less in common with her soul forebears than with Annie Lennox, also blessed with pipes so formidable that she sings like a lead guitar, bending and stretching notes on material that, fortunately, didn’t stint on tackiness and depended on shows of vocal derring-do. Blige isn’t tacky; she’s incapable of bad taste, which sometimes cuts into her sense of fun. To listen to “I’m Goin’ Down” in sequence after the torpid “I Never Wanna Live Without You” is to wonder how a covers album of classic-R&B deep cuts recast as manifestos of self-reliance might’ve played. On the plus side, Combs hadn’t yet turned sampling into the mechanical Puff-ery of the late-’90 No Way Out era; he lets Blige tiptoe over the vocal melody of “You Bring Me Joy” without the rhythm track from White’s “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me” overcoming her.

After My Life strengthened her commercial appeal, Blige embraced traditional feminine roles on duets. Male artists acted as foils. On the remix of “You’re All I Need to Get By,” she plays Tammi Terrell to Method Man’s Marvin Gaye. She then scored her biggest solo pop hit to date, the Babyface-composed “Not Gon’ Cry” from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack; while no different from other performances of survivor-hood, the specificity of the songwriting suggested Blige’s capabilities when paired with the right collaborator. Ghostface Killah called her up for “All That I Got Is You,” a grim remembrance of things past. Energized, Blige recorded two of her best albums back-to-back. Mary (1999) perfects My Life’s old-is-new ethos, with Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin, and Elton John as collaborators and inspiration. She may have lied when titling its follow-up No More Drama (2001), but, oh, what drama—after 9-11, Blige’s dismissing hateration and holleration on “Family Affair” worked like aspirin. If she could survive, hey, there was hope for the rest of us.

My Life, though occasionally tedious, remains a lovable album; its flaws deepen its charms. The album points toward the late 2000s when Blige found simpatico partners in Bryan-Michael Cox for 2005’s The Breakthrough (its megahit “Be Without You” is a sleeker, shattering variant on “I Never Wanna...” ) and Stargate for 2007’s Growing Pains. For her last trick on My Life, she anchors “Be Happy” to Curtis Mayfield’s “You’re So Good to Me,” its slap-bass front and center. “All I really want is to be happy,” she repeats over its seven-minute groove—a prayer, promise, and earned affirmation.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Mary J. Blige - My Life Music Album Reviews Mary J. Blige - My Life Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, December 01, 2020 Rating: 5

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