Monica, like her two-time duet partner and onetime rumored professional rival, Brandy, is an artistic daughter of the late Whitney Houston, whom she’s cited as a major influence. The 32-year-old’s vocal power and masterful control of her instrument make her a singer’s singer. But she’s always had a bit more grit and street veneer than the late Houston, qualities that have made her brand of R&B fit more smoothly in the realm of post-hip-hop R&B. Those same textured qualities flicker on but can’t quite save "New Life," a slickly produced collection of largely generic, meandering songs about self-affirmation in the wake of heartache and romantic disillusionment.
"It All Belongs to Me," her much-hyped reunion with Brandy, replaces the irresistible catfight of their first duet, "The Boy Is Mine," with sisterly bonding as they each discard a trifling lover, but only after making sure he leaves behind the material trappings bought by his sugar mama. The track promises fire but never really ignites. Even heavyweight producers Missy Elliott and Polow da Don seem asleep at the wheel, and it’s only on "New Life’s" final two tracks -- "Cry," produced by Salaam Remi, and "Time to Move On," produced by D. Smith -- that Monica tackles worthy material, and her seasoned, emotive voice soars.
-- Ernest Hardy
Two stars (out of four)