Artists grow all the time. Life starts at one place and moves to another. I'm a firm believer that pain, in whatever form it may take, teaches. The best lessons are learned when your heart aches. There's something about that duality of love, from the highest highs to the lowest lows, that tends to draw out the creativity in people, especially singers.
Mary J. Blige is no exception. Her music taught me how to accept love, how to work through pain, and how to try to relate it all to life. I've insisted on no more drama. I've asked 'What's the 411?'. I've said I'm not gonna cry no more while sharing my world, looking for real love the whole time. Seven days changed my life just when I though love was all we needed. But now it's time for a breakthrough. Time for THE breakthrough, actually.
'The Breakthrough', her latest out on Geffen Records, might just change the way you think about who you are in less than three tracks. One of the most brilliant things about every album Mary J. Blige has done is how they will take you on a journey from start to finish. It's perfectly clear after only a single listen through 'The Breakthrough' that Mary J. Blige is still at the top of her craft. And she's not alone. Will.i.am, Jay-Z, Raphael Saddiq, Bono & U2, and Dave Young all join Mary along the way to talk about affairs of the heart.
The first thing I noticed about this album was its length. Seventy-six minutes, fifty-two seconds. Amen and amen. In this day and age of artists pumping out less than an hour of music per album, Mary doesn't mess around. With eighteen tracks, she ain't playin'.
She's never sounded better either. The slow jam 'I Found My Everything' with Raphael Saddiq is sung from deep inside her soul with every bit of hollerin' she can muster. He actually sounds a bit like Prince in the background. Jay-Z helps her bring a fresh perspective to the old-school loop on 'Can't Hide From Luv.' It sounds a lot like early Mary to me: satisfying and comfortable.
In fact, there are a lot of tracks that sound like early Mary. 'Good Woman Down' really echoes the sound and feelings of 'What's the 411?'. There's a down-tempo track called 'Father In You' that's so beautifully Mary, I had to hit the repeat button a few times with that one.
Shimmering in my spotlight is the track 'About You' that's currently burning up my mp3 player. Will.i.am and Mary J. pair up with some Nina Simone samples and possibly the best lyrics of her career. Her soulful voice bellows out over simple beats, a hook that'll get inside your head, and Nina Simone's signature wails remixed. If you listen to one track first either in the store or online, make it this one.
In the end, there are many more tracks that will make 'The Breakthrough' one of those albums that you may need to listen to alone. Mary J. Blige is good for that: uncovering those tough parts we all wear and forcing you to feel every emotion right along with her.
P.S. For a sneak peak of these tracks, and to hear me reading this column, tune in to radiopeter.com and subscribe to my podcast. Don't know what a podcast is? Then be sure to read my column next week.
With you in 4/4,