It has been three years since the last Mary J. Blige album – well sort of. Blige was responsible for the Think Like A Man Too soundtrack, an effort that likely went largely unnoticed because it was a soundtrack. Even if The London Sessions is technically Blige’s second album of 2014, it is the most anticipated. After listening and analyzing The London Sessions, here are eight takeaways to describe the experience.
1) MJB’s sounds superb as always
Has there ever been a time where Mary J. Blige doesn’t slay? Sure My Life II may not have been Blige’s best studio album, but vocally, MJB always sounded invested and exceptional. On The London Sessions, her voice sounds equally, if not more incredible as the forties have been great to Mary.
2) She collaborates with prominent British musicians
Rather than keeping a familiar script, MJB took the opportunity to work with musicians she wouldn’t normally collaborate with on The London Sessions. British musicians definitely bring plenty to the table, which is showcased throughout The London Sessions. Honestly, could MJB ask to work with a better assortment of British talent including Sam Smith, Emile Sandé, and Disclosure? The answer is a resounding NO.
3) The London Sessions has a greater degree of soulfulness
As I’ve been preaching for years, the British have a killer throwback, soulful vibe that is a bit less trendy in America as of late. Think back to some truly great British R&B artists who have blessed us in the states as of late: Amy Winehouse, Adele, Estelle, Joss Stone, Leona Lewis, and most recently Sam Smith. Collaborating with British musicians brings out an added dimension of soulfulness to The London Sessions, most apparent on opening joint “Therapy.”
4) The London Session also has dance cuts
Sure, Mary J. Blige has ‘bounced’ to the music in the past as the ‘queen of hip-hop soul,’ but she dances more here. Not the entire dance cuts tickle my fancy as I prefer MJB’s balladry, but she definitely slays on slickly produced single “Right Now.” She’s also not shabby on “Follow,” one of the most starkly different tracks of her career. Likely, the dance cuts will be the most divisive portion of The London Sessions.
5) The heartache and pain remain in play
She may get her groove on, but don’t think that MJB has lost her knack for delivering heartache and pain better than anybody. On the high-flying “Whole Damn Year” Blige depicts the broken heartedness flawlessly, singing at one point, “I Thought we were headed for heaven / but you’re bound to take me to hell.”
6) There’s some love and adoration in play too
“It ain’t all bad” for MJB. She also delivers some love and adoration, which includes the importance of self-love/self-esteem. On the funky “Therapy,” Blige asks, “Why would I spend the rest of my days so bitter…when I can go therapy?” On “Doubt,” Blige is inspired to believe in herself. On “Follow,” while there is the theme of broken love, Blige delivers with a feistiness proclaiming, “But tomorrow, morrow, morrow / when you’re hollow, hollow, hollow / you’ll be sad and all alone.”
7) The ballads are where MJB’s “bread is buttered”
Dancing is fine, but Blige is at her best when she’s in balladeer mode. On “Not Loving You,” Blige’s voice is full, residing powerfully in her lower register. Blige sounds authentic here, something that can’t be said of every singer. On “When You’re Gone,” the maturity is notable, as the listener perceives that MJB has truly embodies the “grown women.” Arguably nothing supplants “Whole Damn Year,” which rivals Blige’s classic work given the heartache referenced earlier, accentuated by the diva’s perfect delivery.
8) It’s Listenable beyond the ‘whole damn year’
Maybe it took Blige “a whole damn year” to heal from her heartache, but The London Sessions is an album that’s listenable beyond that short span of time. It has all of the Mary J. Blige-isms working in its favor. It’s no The Breakthrough, but MJB may never have such a prolific, accomplished album of that caliber again. That said The London Sessions is fine addition to MJB’s rich catalogue.
Top 3 Spins: “Therapy,” “Right Now,” “Whole Damn Year”
Photo Credits: © Capitol, instagram/therealmaryjblige