Mary J. Blige – Stronger With Each Tear (Album Review)

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Mary J. Blige is a modern day music icon; I’m guessing there are few who would disagree with that statement.  With 18 years (and counting) in the game as the reigning queen of Hip Hop Soul, nine studio albums under her belt – plus numerous high profile collaborations – it’s hard to think of a person more deserving of the mantle.

As with most ‘icons’, her discography has its ups and downs. What’s The 411? and My Life are certified classics, as are Share My World and Mary (if to a somewhat lesser degree).  No More Drama and Love & Life were both commercially successful, but saw her fans a little disappointed and can be viewed as blips on an otherwise perfect scorecard.  The Breakthrough (2005) and Growing Pains (2007) were seen by many as a return to form for Mary, and so the recent release of Stronger With Each Tear was highly anticipated by both ride or die Mary fans and those she had picked up on her most recent releases.

The first thing that struck me about Stronger With Each Tear is that whilst it is not a drastic departure from The Breakthrough and Growing Pains in terms of subject and style, in my opinion the songs themselves are weaker. The first half of the disc sounds like it could have been sung by any generic R&B ‘diva’, the lyrics and production sound like they’ve been lifted from ‘How To Make An R&B Hit: A Handbook’.

Gone are Mary’s trademark soulful, introspective ballads/slow-tempo tracks and club friendly, attitude laden Hip Hop numbers, – instead, we are faced with a somewhat watered down R&B/Soul-lite affair. What does elevate the album above mediocre, at least on the first half, are the vocals. Even when faced with bland mid-tempos Mary can deliver a song unlike any other. One possible exception to that is the autotune laced ‘The One’ …I honestly have no idea how this made the cut.

The second half of the album fairs (slightly) better. ‘I Am’ brings flashes of ‘Be Without You’, however brief, and ‘Kitchen’ is a fun, tongue-in-cheek track although it may not suffer repeated listens. The only two tracks I can say with any certainty I like are ‘In The Morning’ and ‘Color’ (from the movie Precious). The former shows flashes of classic Mary, with the heartfelt almost pleading lyrics and the catchy hook. The latter sees Mary flirt with the blues giving impressive results. With the production stripped back and Raphael Saadiq at the helm this was always going to be a standout, it just wasn’t apparent how far it would stand out. In my opinion Mary and Raphael need to hook up for a full album soon.

Stronger With Each Tear is scheduled for release in the UK on February 1, 2010.

–SoulUK

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