A truly Mary Christmas would match the distraught look on the cover. Blige's first Christmas album, guided by David Foster and Jochem van der Saag, doesn't feature sad or embittered chestnuts like "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" or "Fairytale of New York" (was Method Man busy?). Instead, it contains a mix of standard holiday songs -- a couple playful, many solemn, all dramatic.
The back catalogue of Christmas classics doesn't want for plaintive, depressing yuletide tunes fit to have you hanging yourself from the highest bow, so the prospect of beholding busted angel Mary J. Blige dusting herself off upon a midnight clear actually held more promise than almost any other holiday album in recent memory. For those who bask in the bittersweet undertones of the wintry season, who better than Blige to dig deep into the endless pit of despair that is her diaphragm and wail “Please Come Home for Christmas”? Why not let Blige show Mariah Carey how Vince Guaraldi's doleful “Christmastime Is Here” should really be covered? And how about putting a cherry on top of the fallen figgy pudding with a rendition of Amy Grant's pleading “Breath of Heaven,” a song so full of expressive nakedness you'd think Grant had Blige in mind, and not the mother of Jesus, when she subtitled it “(Mary's Song).
"Obviously I've always wanted to do a Christmas album," Mary J Blige told the Guardian recently, neatly explaining why it's taken her a mere 21 years to get around to doing so. What she didn't mention were her recent difficulties with the tax man, but maybe they had nothing to do with the decision. Allow us to be less charitable with our verdict on the music, though, which fails to deviate from the X Factor formula of dousing festive standards (When You Wish Upon a Star; The First Noel) with slushy strings and choirs.