Album Review: Mary J. Blige's "My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1)"
Provided you can beat a path through that thicket of numerals and punctuation marks, you’ll notice that the title of Mary J. Blige’s new album bills itself as a sequel to her 1994 effort, “My Life.” And if you don’t, the R&B star explains the concept in an introductory phone call with the first album’s principal producer, Sean “Diddy” Combs. “It’s not a competitor,” Blige tells Combs of the new disc. “It’s an extension of how far we’ve come.” Well, OK. The truth is that any of Blige’s albums could’ve been called “My Life II”; her work always feels as if it’s arriving upon a bed of personal betterment.
She gets away with the dramatics because she makes them so easy to buy: No working soul singer depicts struggle (and its hard-won defeat) more believably than Blige does, even when armed with so-so material, as she often is here. In “Feel Inside,” she enlivens a threadbare breakup narrative with vocals full of lifelike ambivalence; later, she gives “25/8” the energy required to sell its goofy lyrical conceit. “Twenty-four seven ain’t enough,” she sings, “I got so much love for you, boy.”
In “Love a Woman,” Blige duets with Beyoncé, whose bulletproof veneer contrasts with Blige’s famously unvarnished presentation. And yet the singers find a credible middle ground dispensing advice on how to satisfy a “real woman.” It’s a topic Blige could probably unpack forever.
Mary J. Blige
"My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1)"
Two and a half stars (Out of four)