Mary J Blige – The London Sessions
Okay, here’s the situation. I live-tweeted my first full listen of The London Sessions the day that it came out. And I was happy with what I heard for the most part. Because it’s Mary and I love Mary. Her voice sounded better than I’ve heard her in a long time, even on tracks that I didn’t like. So I recommended the album to a couple of folks on Twitter, with only a twinge of doubt about my co-sign.
Later that day, other folks tweeted their responses to the album. And it wasn’t as positive as I’d felt during my first listen. I started questioning my taste in music for a second. But the critiques were coming from fellow music lovers whom I respect.
So I listened to it again and again. After a few listens, I noticed which songs I wanted to skip and which ones I wanted to repeat. I started to see the dissenting point of view about the album.
Here’s my thing about The London Sessions. I hate the idea that since Mary J. Blige put out her most successful albums at a time in her life when she was suffering from relationship abuse and drug addiction that she should go back to that state to regain popularity. Like, y’all really want this Black woman to regress and put herself through further pain just to entertain you? SMFH. Let that woman be happy, that’s all she really wanted in the first place.
There are some good songs on The London Sessions. The best of these is the single, “Whole Damn Year”. There are some misses too, where Disclosure and Co. give her impersonal dance tracks to sing over. She slays them, of course, she’s not the Queen of Hip Hop Soul for nothing.
But the heart of Mary’s art has been making the personal universal. There’s not much for her fans to connect to on songs like “My Loving” and “Follow”. Some of the dance tracks belong to the 90’s and probably should’ve stayed there. (I give “Nobody But You” a pass. Four on the floor never goes out of style, right?)
Even the ballads lack the intimacy that’s been the trademark of Blige’s best work. After listening to The London Sessions for a few days, the kindest thing I can say is that the album is a collection of stellar vocal performances. The material itself is less than stellar as a whole. There are a few standout songs (“Therapy”, “Doubt”, the aforementioned “Whole Damn Year”) but the rest of the album consists of impersonal tracks that any singer could’ve performed – just not as well as Mary has. Thirteen albums into her career, Blige deserves a higher class of material to sink her chops into.
Next time, I won’t recommend an album right after the first listen.