Mary J. Blige, ‘The London Sessions’ – [ALBUM REVIEW]
Blige took a journey over the pond to collaborate with a new wave of singers, songwriters and producers while on a mission to offer fans a sonically distinctive effort compared to her past works.
The artists, many of them newcomers in comparison to Blige, include Sam Smith, Disclosure, Naughty Boy, Emile Sande, Jimmy Napes and Sam Romans. But in true MJB style, she also made sure to pack some homegrown talent into the project, including her go-to guy, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins.
The result: 12 songs mixed with upbeat pop tempos, classic soul and a dash of English flavor, all shaped in London's RAK Studios.
She's been praised over the past two decades for her soulful, sorrowful ballads -- 'I'm Going Down' ('My Life,' 1994); 'Not Gon' Cry' ('Share My World,' 1997); 'No More Drama' ('No More Drama,' 2001). On 'The London Sessions,' Blige is lyrically reaffirming that life is still full of struggles, but there's beauty in the lessons learned.
Watch Mary J. Blige's 'Therapy' Video
At first listen, the 45-minute LP may not have listeners salivating over her fresh entree of sonic sounds, but a second helping of the collective dish begs for more. Partnering with Eg White to open 'The London Sessions' with a soulful ballad rooted in communal blues, the pair provide a tune that sounds like a familiar Blige vibe with 'Therapy.' The song tackles the idea of receiving emotional, external help head on and makes the use of therapy quite clear: "Why would I spend the rest of my days unhappy? / Why would I spend the rest of this year alone? / When I can go therapy / When I can therapy / When I can go therapy two times a day."
The three-and-a-half minute track transitions into 'Doubt,' a gospel-inspired single that finds the songstress reproducing her musical pedigree. She openly admits she's "made it to the end / I nearly paid the cost / I lost a lot of friends / I sacrificed a lot." But she'd do it all again. And with MJB, everything is about transition.
By track five, she leaves the tears behind for the jamming track 'Right Now,' co-written by Sam Smith. The effort, perfect for a New York hot spot or British dance pub, is bidding farewell to a relationship gone wrong -- she's finished with the games.
Watch Mary J. Blige's 'Right Now' Video
While 'Right Now' kicks off a continued upbeat feel with a three-track half-life, it's interrupted by the somber single 'Whole Damn Year.' The lyrics are dedicated to the pain felt by domestic violence. But it only takes four minutes for Blige to put her pop face back on as 'Nobody But You' quickly follows. As the Bronx-born singer's signature production appears in and out of tracks throughout the album, the avid Mary J. Blige listener might be swayed to skip the remainder of the project -- a true music enthusiast knows better.
The house-based sonic structure may be something new for early '90's Blige fans, who enjoyed the hip-hop-inspired R&B of 'What's the 411?' However, the poignant lyrics and stirring vocals ring just the same. Aware that this sound is a change from what her loyal fan base is familiar with, the Grammy Award-winning performer speaks to her audience between tracks on the album, touching on her progression as a person and an artist and how that translates to her supporters.
"I think people wanna see, how do you get through these struggles," Blige says during a break between 'Whole Damn Year' and the let-loose track 'Nobody But You.' "They watched me from the time I came out with my first album all the way up to now 'cause my life is public. It's in front of the world, on TV all the time. And what they get a chance to see is that she's a human being, and she's gonna constantly have peaks and valleys."
Watch Mary J. Blige's 'Whole Damn Year' Video
"[In] Life you go up and you come down, and when she's down how does she act when she's down? Does she treat her fans bad? Does she still show up for her shows? Does she still write songs that can help us? Yes. Does she love us? Absolutely. That's how it is."
Disclosure, who produced the songs 'Right Now' and 'Follow,' give a simple response: "It's the reason people are very successful. They're not afraid to just change."
'The London Sessions' is a refreshing music delivery from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Solemn. Thought-provoking. Joyful. The project offers a stream of mixed emotions that mimic those portrayed in the music. Like it or love it, this is one of Blige's better works produced over the past 10 years. She traveled to another country to craft the 12 songs, but they certainly hit home.
Mary J. Blige's 'London Sessions' album is available in stores now. If you want to cop the LP on iTunes, click here.