So, I basically only know Mary J. Blige from her hits and maybe some guest appearances. I thought I had listened to an album of hers at some point in the past but there are no reviews so I must have decided not to. I’m not really sure why, I guess I decided the combination of reviews and sales wasn’t good enough. Anyway…
At least on rateyourmusic, this is her least good album yet. But the critical reviews suggest otherwise, and the sales were still pretty good. (Helped by “Family Affair” which felt to me like it was ubiquitous.) I tend towards the critical consensus because…
R&B lyrics are usually pretty one-note. They’re about one thing and one thing only, more often than not. (Occasionally they are about things adjacent to that one thing.) Neo soul corrected this somewhat but it was still a niche genre. (Some people label this neo soul and honestly I’m really not sure why. Maybe it’s the lyrics.) But I can honestly say I haven’t heard a soul singer sing about PMS before. And that is just the most radical departure lyrically. On the whole, Blige is more concerned with everyday life than your typical R&B singer. It’s refreshing and somewhat surprising.
The music is pretty typical for the era, more of a hip hop vibe than ’90s R&B records (though, to the best of my knowledge, that has been Blige’s thing). I certainly wouldn’t describe the music as neo soul, it’s more just where R&B went at the turn of the millennium. But it certainly has more energy and rhythm than some of the staid R&B of the early ’90s. There are a few out-there samples, though there are also some organic instruments on some tracks.
Blige’s voice is in fine form. That’s certainly always been the appeal, but couple that with lyrics that are more diverse than usual, and are more relatable and you have a pretty winning formula.
It is way too long, but of course. It’s not because of skits but rather because too many of the songs overstay their welcome and, as usual, there are too many songs and not enough great ones. The poem is unnecessary, sure, but it’s better than a skit. At least in my opinion.
Anyway, I’m pleasantly surprised and I’m not really sure why this is rated less well than her previous albums. (Of course, I haven’t really heard them.)