Mary J. Blige’s new album, her 13th, is out this week in the US.
The London Sessions is a record many have been anticipating since the summer began, when Mary gave news she had gone to the UK to work with new producers and make a fresh album, mixing her American roots and influences with the talent of this new British generation of artists.
The album was leaked on the internet a month prior to its actual release, but Mary had already introduced a few of the tracks via promotional releases on iTunes. The record begins with the Sam Smith-penned “Therapy,” which is a true exercise in Soul and a promising opening: the hums and doo-wop beat are right up Mary’s alley and fit perfectly among her more soulful moments. A couple of piano ballads immediately follow, with “Doubt” being the better one if only for its melody and vocal arrangements. “When You’re Gone” is where the soul is really lost: there is nothing that can make a guitar-based acoustic ballad and Mary J. Blige work.
From that moment on, the album abandons R&B to become full on Pop: “Right Now,” produced by Disclosure, feels like an updated and more mainstream version of her 2005 single “Enough Cryin” with the same amount of energy and sass. “My Loving” is a nod to 90s House courtesy of Rodney Jerkins, while “Long Hard Look” is a self-esteem booster with arguably the freshest production work of the album.
“Whole Damn Year” is definitely the best ballad and a great addition to Mary’s collection of pain-filled tracks. The track was co-written by Emeli Sandé and produced by Naughty Boy and captures the essence of what has made Mary the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul: the somber melody, the overall sad tone and the vocal filled with emotion chronicling an abusive relationship all take us back to the glorious days of her classic records from the 90s.
The rest of the album is made up of a few more uptempo numbers, of which the most interesting is the Naughty Boy-produced “Pick Me Up,” which features a clarinet loop that would have also worked well on a midtempo R&B track. The piano ballad “Worth My Time” then closes the album.
The London Sessions gives the impression of a sort of divisive record: some may consider it a fresher approach for the now veteran Blige, with the possibility that the pairing with hot and fresh producers on the come up will open up her audience to new fans, especially internationally; other fans, the more hardcore or conservative ones, will probably deem it too pandering to Top 40 sounds and even a bit jarring, probably preferring the Think Like a Man Too soundtrack she released earlier this year to it.
You be the judge, if you want you can pick it up starting this week.