For a while there, there was an upward trend in the life and catalog of Mary J. Blige. She seemed to transcend her biggest demons on No More Drama, find love on Love & Life, and begin navigating the pains of life beyond love on The Breakthrough and Growing Pains. Then it all came crashing down, but Mary stood strong. After dealing blistering blows to her ex and lifting herself up on 2017’s Strength of A Woman, Mary navigates post-divorce life on Good Morning Gorgeous, her fifteenth studio album, which arrives in the lead-up to her performance during the 2022 Super Bowl halftime show.
The album marks Mary’s shortest LP ever at just 38 minutes, and she doesn’t waste any time getting down to business. “What’s love these days? We don’t know what to say,” she ponders on the album’s opening cut “No Idea,” which gives you a sense of what’s to follow. The landscape of 2022 Mary J. Blige is still bruised but definitely not broken. Though she’s skeptical at times, she’s resilient as ever and making progress as she trudges onward.
She’s a bit subdued here vocally, reminiscent of Mariah Carey’s vocal approach to her last LP, 2018’s Caution. The focus is more on navigation of this stage of life, with lyrics and production that seamlessly bridge the gap between Mary’s classics and today’s musical landscape. That doesn’t mean that she’s emotionless though. “I’m so goddamn sick of the pain” she exasperatingly vents on the chorus of “Love Without The Heartbreak,” where she muses on a more perfect love and laments her bad luck with relationships. “When will love give me a break?” she ponders, similar to her woeful laments on introspective “Failing In Love” and the effervescent “Love Will Never.”
Mary’s not all misery though, those days are behind her. The album is titled and sequentially centers around the title track, “Good Morning Gorgeous.” It’s a simmering blues record akin to 2009’s “I Can See In Color” that finds Mary revealing her key to transcending the worst days, she looks in the mirror and says “good morning gorgeous” when she wakes up in the morning.
A playful side of Mary that appears both in love and in life. She flexes about buying a coast for her man and challenges him to “match that so we can have two” on the sensual, lounge-y “Come See About Me.” She also trades lines with Anderson .Paak, Usher, and Ne-Yo (on the Target edition) about relationship dynamics ranging from what’s “supposed to be” with .Paak on “Here With Me,” to a dependable partner with Usher on “Need Love,” all the way to the inception of an unexpected attraction with Ne-Yo on the Target bonus track “Running.”
Mary also mixes in a few feel-good records as a reminder just who she is on her best days. For “On Top” she flips the same sample of The Delfonics “Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” utilized on Three-6-Mafia’s “Who Run It?” Thanks to production from Cool & Dre, the Philly soul classic assumes another place in hip hop (it was already cemented into The Fugees’ “Ready Or Not” and Missy Elliott’s “Sock It 2 Me”) and transforms it into a hard-hitting Brooklyn drill record, sealed with a verse from Fivio Foreign. This is classic Mary; seizing a hip hop sound and sweetening it with her R&B sensibility. Moments like this reinforce her title of Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.
She also wades into reggae/rocksteady territory on the album’s other big feel-good record, “Amazing” featuring surprisingly subdued ad-libs from the ubiquitous DJ Khaled. This one is a grower. It’s like nails on a chalkboard at first, but the infectious hook quells that initial feeling and this track built for the clubs and VIP tables has an effect, just like the music video illustrates.
The album’s only regressive moment isn’t even in a song as a whole, just a sample choice. Third single “Rent Money” is a smooth R&B kiss-off to her deadbeat ex, who drained their joint accounts and then won a hefty alimony sum, forcing her to go on tour to pay his alimony. The song utilizes the hook from The Notorious BIG’s “Fuck You Tonight,” which was performed by R.Kelly, who also co-wrote the song. That means this record is putting money into the pocket of a convicted sexual predator currently attempting to overturn his conviction while simultaneously preparing for a trial on additional charges. It’s an unfortunate choice from someone who herself has vulnerably shared her own experiences of surviving sexual assault.
With the exception of that glaring inclusion, Good Morning Gorgeous is a fantastic addition to the Mary J. Blige canon. It shines bright like it’s title. Mary’s life is so closely intertwined with the content of the music, that this is yet another chapter likely to resonate with and help the masses, just as My Life first did in 1994.
Listen to Good Morning Gorgeous