It's been six years since reigning hip-hop diva Mary J. Blige put a moratorium on drama and critics are now wondering if Mary's placid new life makes her new album Growing Pains, well, kinda painful. Mary's no-drama mantra works for her: most reviewers are finding that while her Pains (out tomorrow) might be mundane, its far from bad. Newsday calls her a "tattoo-rocking, ballad-belting, hip-hop-loving Oprah" because of her appealing though self-helpy lyrics. Entertainment Weekly echoes the Oprah comparison and adds that, during some songs, Mary is "tender, melancholy, and completely unguarded." Check out the rest of the peanut gallery's assessments after the jump, with nary a Kirk Cameron reference to be found.
Blige has definitely lost or just outgrown the brassy urgency of her twenties. Then, her confessions had the feel of painful late-night outbursts; these days, they sound more like she's had a lot of therapy. It would be easy to make fun of this, but why? How gratifying it is to see pop lucre propel a project kid like Mary J. Blige into the upper reaches of the upper-middle class rather than turn her into a lost grotesque. If her new music still sometimes seems too comfy for comfort, give her credit for trying to grow into it and believing she can keep on going.
[I]n the end, it's just Mary: a superstar, clearly, but also a woman still in the process of finding herself. Even if that means she's imperfect (and, yes, a little preachy), at least it feels real.
All Hip Hop
Growing Pains redeems Blige - still not completely. The content can be mistaken for that in No More Drama, except Growing Pains comes across less preachy and corny, and more genuine and earnest.
Blige says she named the album "Growing Pains" based on her belief in the adage, "No pain, no gain." It's a common theme, but her focus on the growth and not the pain makes it seem new and refreshing. What is even more impressive is the way she makes happiness and contentment seem as compelling as the struggle.
Not surprisingly, the lyrics are the weak element. That's a tough thing to point out, since Blige bases so much of what she does on being an example to others. If tunes like "Grown Woman" and "Work That" serve as an inspiration to listeners, that's a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, it doesn't make them good art. Too often, Blige sounds preachy and self-obsessed, and if she's earned the right to be, well, that doesn't make "Growing Pains" go down any easier for the rest of us.
Mary J. Blige: Growing Pains [Rolling Stone]
Mary J. Blige: Growing Pains [Entertainment Weekly]
Mary J. Blige: Growing Pains [All Hip Hop]
Review: Mary J. Blige's effortless 'Growing Pains' [Newsday]
Blige lets you feel her pain [Buffalo News]
Life of Roses? No, but She's Doing Fine [New York Times]