Mary J. Blige - Stronger with Each Tear

Sure, on the cusp of her 40s, it's been a long time since she recorded the seminal What's the 411, the album that made her the queen of hip hop-soul-R&B (a genre custom-built around her grittier, rough-around-the-edges urban sound). And with the likes of Akon, T.I., and Jay Sean guesting on her latest, they just don’t have the same impact as the Puff Daddies, R.Kellys and Wu Tang Clans of her 90s heyday.

That's not to say Stronger with Each Tear is a weak effort – far from it – it just gives off that impression from its opening salvo of over-produced, throwaway tracks that neither connect with the listener, nor play to Mary's strengths as a singer of considerable power. "The One" featuring Drake might be a club floor-filler, and "I Can't Wait" could go toe-to-toe with Lady Gaga, they're just not very good songs. And the less said of her OTT disco-punk cover of "Whole Lotta Love", the better. Eina.

Thankfully things start to look rosier as Mary accesses her singular ability to wrench emotion from every word, every pause on songs like "I Am", "Stronger" and goes old skool on "In The Morning". Auto-Tune is her enemy on the otherwise insanely sexy "I Love U (Yes I Du)" but the phat beats are perfectly sweaty. This being Mary J Blige, drama is not far behind, so each song is tear-stained (they make her stronger, in case you missed it) and is offers an uplifting, generous perspective on the bumpy road through life and love.

The standout is undoubtedly "Color" from the soundtrack to Oscar-winning movie Precious. With sparse accompaniment and every detail of her voice left bare, it packs a heavy emotional punch to the gut.

There certainly are spine-tingling moments on Stronger with Each Tear (I remember how "I'm Going Down" used to stop me cold) it's just that they don't really stand up to her previous work.
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