Along with Kendrick Lamar, Mary J Blige was the charismatic, talent-exploding highlight of the Super Bowl half time show this week. A reminder for anyone who slept through the ‘90s, coasted through the '00s and wasn’t paying attention in the 2010s, that she matters for a whole lot of reasons.
Wind Back Wednesday doesn’t have to go back too far to a moment in 2017 when Ms Blige re-asserted her place in the world, post-divorce and post-Australian tour, with an album that went top three on the main US chart and #1 on the R&B chart.
And days ago she released her 14th album, Good Morning Gorgeous. That, it turns out, is still the 411.
MARY J BLIGE
Strength Of A Woman (EMI)
THIS WILL NOT COME as a surprise to anyone who saw the recent Mary J Blige Australian shows, where she ripped her heart out and simultaneously bolstered the hearts – or courage, determination, spirit - of everyone in the room.
The contents of the new Mary J album do exactly what it says on the label. This is both an album of (more than) survival and a call to celebrate a future defined by strength, not by (real or perceived) weakness.
In the album’s opening, which has a pretty superfluous contribution from Kanye West, Blige tells us we have to love ourselves, we have to be open but not too open, because “everybody don’t mean you well”, and it’s time to take control of our lives.
The remaining songs essentially amplify, or extend these ideas in varying forms as she applies the lessons/directions to relationships, social interactions, work and faith.
And yes, the use of “we” is deliberate. As a feminist symbol, flawed, damaged, searching, Blige is speaking for and to women and doing it with genuineness borne of a pretty straightforward “been there, done that, have the scars to show it”.
However, the power of that voice, and its ability to raise our eyes above the grime, is as universal as any message about building our defences against the torrent of shitbiscuits (thank you Dead Pool) sent our way.
What Blige brings to the table however, is more than a message or a survival story, and more too than that voice. Strength Of A Woman is rich with quality songs that as usual blend gospel and R&B and hip hop into a classic soul brew.
It’s Me surges through on a rising positivity, The Naked Truth has a kind of joyful Al Jarreau overlay to its slow groove, U+Me (Love Lesson) is sensuous and the glistening moments in Thick Of It put a shine on a tough nugget of a delivery.
There probably didn’t need to be 16 songs on the album. There rarely ever is a good argument for 16 songs on an album. But even towards the end of the record, as a bit of fatigue sets in, there’s the alluring ‘80s finery on the finger-snapping Telling The Truth.
So, yeah, Ms Blige can probably do what she wants.