Mary's latest album is appropriately titled, it describes the two things I've felt about her over the last few years: loving her music, but not her life. Not exactly her life, it's the no more drama theme she weaved into her personality after the My Life album. Ahh... there it is. It's her life. Yet, when your in the public eye your personal life tends to spillover into your public appearances and what you do. I forget who said, "the hardest part of showbiz is smiling when the camera comes on," but Mary made no attempt to smile at all. You'd see her at award shows, people are giving her crazy appreciation, and she would have a frown on her face like she didn't want to be there. It was either that or she was overly dramatic.. counter to her No More Drama ethos. Its understood that she has had problems in her life, but bringing them on stage was not something you'd want to see. It was like your mama walked in the party and told you to turn the music down. What happened to the girl that at least.. looked happy on the outside?
I can hear Mary's diehard fans saying "wtf?" Don't think that I'm way out the pocket, given Mary's new look for this album, the reconnect with Puff, the fun back in the music.. it's clear that even Mary knew it was time for a change. Going back to my original idea: Mary having met someone who she considers a real love and making spiritual developments in her life has made her happy. This is reflected in the new album: love.. life.. it all connects.
You can link the tracklisting in the same way, two halves, but in reverse order: the first half with songs like "Ohh!", "Love @ 1st Sight", "Not Today" representing life; and the second half representing love, beginning with the warm groove of "Willing and Waiting." The mixture is perfect.
Why am I telling you this? By now, you've either downloaded it or gave up some cash for the real deal. You know that "Let Me Be" w/ 50 Cent is some ruff riding sh*t. And if you know that, then your familiar with "When We" and that wiggly bassline that the lyrics ride on. "Ultimate Relationship" is the hotness for the unexpected reference to the Holy Spirit, nearly every song feels like a pair of comfortable shoes, that original Mary J Blige sound is back.
I doubt if Mary will ever go down as the world's greatest singer, she can hit flat notes or choke off a vocal or two when you least expect it. If Ashanti sang "Don't Go" the way Mary did you'd fling the CD in the river. Sometimes an artist gets a personality pass - one of the secrets of success in any business. Shani Bani better take note. Through it all, what I love about Mary is that she is one of us, she represented the female voice in hip-hop in the post Salt and Pepa/MC Lyte/Latifah era. The look, the attitude, the sound, she was the total package. We all encounter difficult periods in our lives and handle them in different ways. Mary chose to expel everything from her life that caused her grief, blocked her ears to the street and any identification with the past. Unfortunately some of the things she got rid of were what made her appealing to a segment of her audience.
In the panoramic view, the process is called growing up.
With this album Mary returns with lessons learned and a reinvigorated spirit, she gives us a reminder of why we crowned her the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Whatever deficiences there are it's clear that this is where she needs to be right now.. loving life and living.
back to the ratings..
|-- Degrees --||10||20||30||40||50||60||70||80||90||100|
|1.  Love & Life (Intro)
|2.  Don't Go|
|3.  When We|
|4.  Not Today
|5.  Finally Made It (Interlude)|
|7.  Let Me Be the 1
feat. 50 Cent
|8.  Love @ 1st Sight
feat. Method Man
|9.  Willing & Waiting
|10. Free (Interlude)|
|12. Press On|
|13. Feel Like Makin Love|
|14. It's A Wrap|
|15. Message in Our Music
|16. All My Love|
|17. Special Part of Me|
|18. Ultimate Relationship (A.M.)|