MARY J BLIGE
Good Morning Gorgeous (Mary Jane Productions/300 Entertainment)
If you’ve paid any attention at all to Mary J Blige over the past three decades you will know that there are certain verities, certain patterns in life – especially, but certainly not restricted to, a romantic life. Especially a life if you’re a woman with (perfectly reasonable) expectations not yet completely blunted by (all too common) realisation.
After joy comes the sorrow, after the sorrow comes the pain, after the pain comes the rebuilding, after the rebuilding comes redemption, then, maybe, comes the joy. And at certain key points in there, comes a Mary J Blige album: sometimes brilliant, sometimes, like this one, pretty good and good enough, to address and explain it all.
If 2017’s Strength Of A Woman was an album that detailed and explored the pain and scars and lingering anger of a divorce, without succumbing to self-flagellation – the real sequel, if you will, to 2005’s buoyant-in-recovery-and-love, The Breakthrough – Good Morning Gorgeous is the beginning of the rebuild and the argument for moving up, not just moving on.
For every sharp reminder that some things are still owed (in Rent Money she explains “I just want back what I put into this … All I got is rent money due, fucking with you”), some still unexplained (in Enough she asks “Tell me why is it so typical to let it go/Walk away from physical, forget the love”), some still painful (Failing In Love sees her confessing “Oh, I’m passing your house/Got me wanna burn it to the ground”) or some still needing a bit of effort to get past (in Love Will Never, she admits that “I’ll fuck it out so I won’t go through/Another heartbreak falling for you”) there’s a more positive exhortation, or at the very least attempt, to be defined by your rules not those of the louse who’s left your house or your standing in relation to him.
Sure, maybe there’s as much hope as belief in Need Love’s promise that this next time “I’m looking for a tender touch, Oh/But I might take my time, no rush/I like the way it feels to be free”, and in the request in Here With Me to “Give me more than sex, yeah, I need to connect”, not to mention some grandstanding in the not entirely convincing – because she seems to be trying to convince herself as much as anyone else – Amazing, where she boasts “my crib is so big I tell the guests to use a map/He want to play house, I ask, where’s the fun in that?”. But then again positive affirmations have their place, as she details in the title track: “I wake up every morning and tell myself/Good morning gorgeous/Sometimes got a look in the mirror and say/Good morning gorgeous.;
Maybe now that she is 50, it is time, as she told the Los Angeles Times, to actually do things with less drama and not just hope for it, as she did with 2001’s not entirely accurate No More Drama.
Cutting back on the volatility applies to the musical constructions around Blige’s still commanding and convincing voice. The essential formula remains of using a new batch of producers and collaborators to intersect modern ideas with her preferred style of dry ‘90s R&B laced with ‘70s soul.
Indeed maybe one of the reasons why Anderson .Paak’s track with her, Here With Me, feels attractive but unsurprising is that his preferred mode these days with his side project with Bruno Mars, Silk Sonic, is ‘70s soul and he is treading a well worn path. Then again, Bongo ByTheWay, who produced Here With Me, was also at the controls for No Idea, which bristles with more vim, while Love Without The Heartbreak, produced this time by .Paak, works similar territory but pushes outside the same lines much more.
Notwithstanding the squelch and noise of Amazing, where DJ Khaled puts sonics to the fore and Blige feels like she is permanently working to catch up, the changes and differences are at the margins on Good Morning Gorgeous, her first album on her own label. There’s an opening up of space around her more often, a few touches of jazz-adjacent sounds, some thinning of the middle range in a track like the stripped back On Top.
So, yes, it’s an album that can be said to be in tune with Blige’s past without sacrificing contemporary variations, and not really showing any weaknesses in thought or execution. However, its consistency is eventually proof of its actual flaw.
Attractive and well styled, Good Morning Gorgeous lacks stand-out moments, those tracks of extra power or genius, moving empathy or telling frankness, that lift you. The kind of tracks she regularly brings to the table.
Listening to this album is a pleasure, but it isn’t thrilling. Maybe that’s not what’s required. Maybe that’s the price you pay for less drama.