Mary J. Blige - My Life II...The Journey Continues

Mary J. Blige
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Physically compromised, emotionally broken and struggling to accept the almost-instant success that many of her peers yearned to achieve, Mary J. Blige was a tender 23-years-old when she released her most universally-lauded album, My Life, a collection of songs that revealed as much yearning for acceptance and vulnerability to heartbreak as it did her ability write lyrics and flawlessly combine the purest elements of hip-hop and true-school soul. What’s the 411? introduced Ms. Blige to the world, but the seminal contents of My Life resonated so strongly with the fans that many eschewed the personal growth that prevented her from revisiting its despair and desperation in future works. Seven studio CDs later, nearly ten years removed from that masterpiece and now considered an icon, Ms.

Physically compromised, emotionally broken and struggling to accept the almost-instant success that many of her peers yearned to achieve, Mary J. Blige was a tender 23-years-old when she released her most universally-lauded album, My Life, a collection of songs that revealed as much yearning for acceptance and vulnerability to heartbreak as it did her ability write lyrics and flawlessly combine the purest elements of hip-hop and true-school soul. What’s the 411? introduced Ms. Blige to the world, but the seminal contents of My Life resonated so strongly with the fans that many eschewed the personal growth that prevented her from revisiting its despair and desperation in future works. Seven studio CDs later, nearly ten years removed from that masterpiece and now considered an icon, Ms. Blige decided she was strong enough to head back into the lab, spill out her heart’s contents and expound on the moments and mantras in a competent and compelling follow-up.

In the intro,  Ms. Blige states to her one-time mentor, Sean “Puff Daddy/Diddy/P. Diddy” Combs, that  My Life II…. is “not a competitor:  it’s a sequel, an extension of how far we’ve come….not saying that pain doesn’t exist no more …. but now we know how to navigate it.” She’s not as uber-polished and Pollyannaish as she was on 2009’s well-meaning, but sterilized Stronger With Each Tear, but she still retains the self-awareness and emotional clarity even while fragile, displayed in tracks like “No Condition,” a synth-riding, brooding mid-tempo acknowledging the toll of a dysfunctional relationship before she bows out: “How did you go, from being my best friend, to me barely even wanting your affection….I can’t love you under these conditions.” “Mr. Wrong,” with a cameo by the omnipresent Drake, illustrates the paradoxical appeal of ‘junk food men,’ those with no long-term value but who are irresistible even as they do the most damage: “Bad guys ain’t no good, good boys ain’t no fun/Lord knows that I should, run off with the right one.”

Rick Ross laces his id-centered, grimy style throughout “Why,”  an unapologetic counterpart to Ms. Blige’s agony as she wrestles with a love turned inside out: “Why can’t we turn love around, we build it up to break it down….we live in heaven, go to hell then, go right back to force the lesson/I’m tired of stressing, get the message, I can’t live in this depression.” The most devastating of them all, “Empty Prayers,” rails against the heartbreaker and her own naiveté as she realizes that seeking His help for their union was a fool’s errand all along: “And I know that He had something better to do than to sit and listen to a broken-hearted fool/Could’ve been saving the world from a tragedy, but instead He was listening to me.”

Does she still, as in tracks from My Life, get her party on? Most def: “Next Level” pairs her with Busta Rhymes in an ear-catching work-out of a jam, Rodney Jerkins’ production prowess on Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”  allows a confident remake, and “Feel Inside,” featuring Nas, spills out her heart’s contents over a “Love Is All We Need”-recalling vibe. “25-8” captures that honeymoon-ish haze that is so intoxicating to the newly in-love: “I don’t wanna have to rush, cuz’ 24/7 ain’t enough, and I got so much love for you Boy/I need another hour in a day, so I can love you 25-8, 25-8….”

Brimming with artistic stretches (The poignant “Need Someone” is downright country, while her duet with Beyonce, “Love A Woman,” seems untenable in concept but actually pushes the latter out of her comfort zone and creates a mantra in the process) and the assurance that only maturity can deliver, My Life II acknowledges the broken girl that once was, embraces her imperfections and welcomes her along for the rest of the Journey: not to exploit or nurse those pains, but to celebrate the full-fledged woman that she’s become as a result of them. Enthusiastically Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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