Release Date: Nov 21, 2011
Record label: Geffen
Genre(s): R&B, Adult Contemporary R&B, Contemporary R&B
"I'm not saying that pain doesn't exist no more in our life," says Mary J. Blige inthe spoken intro to her 10th studio album. "But now we know how to navigate it." Navigating pain has always been her subject. On this sequel to 1994's My Life, Blige is, as usual, a voyager on storm-tossed emotional seas, swinging from bliss to anguish and back again.
“If you look through my life, you see what I’ve seen.” The trademark line and Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” sample are forever synonymous with Mary J. Blige’s 1994 My Life album. Back then, a young Mary—rocking baggy jeans, Timbs, and a pained heart—connected with a fan base that crowned her the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul.” Almost 20 years after the original’s release, the Queen offers the follow up, My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1).
Spend an evening listening to Blige’s slow-burn 1994 opus My Life followed by this smooth sequel, My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1), and the only thing you’ll have to break your groove for is a bubble bath. Blige can still rip your heart out with a note (see the hurts-so-good ”Why”). But the lovelorn lyrics get same-y, and ”modern” touches (like snoozy duets with Drake and Beyoncé) show a Blige who doesn’t care much about the here and now — or maybe she’s just saving that for Act 2.
Almost 17 years after the original My Life, Mary J Blige returns with a sequel. By doing so she's instantly inviting comparisons with what is arguably her greatest work, and while it doesn't quite have the bruised efficiency of that record, you can see why she decided to put the two together. Part two is a surprisingly robust return to form, particularly given the flabbiness of her last two albums.
Intro excepted, a devout Mary J. Blige fan could listen to these 70 minutes of music as an untitled album and never think of it as a sequel to 1994's My Life. Technically titled My Life II...The Journey Continues (Act 1) -- yes, it’s the first act of a continuation -- it’s more the successor to Blige’s previous album, Stronger with Each Tear. Blige is in a much different, presumably much better place now than she was when she made the turbulent My Life.
Even looking beyond the three-tiered title of Mary J. Blige’s latest installment of bass-heavy therapy (which feels like the cataloguing equivalent of her ever-present melisma), it takes a lot of salt to, decades after the fact, record a sequel to what is widely considered one of the most groundbreaking R&B albums of the 1990s, one which helped foster the merging of hip-hop and soul. Not that they were ever truly divergent fields, but My Life certainly made it feel like the two genres were falling in love for the first time.
Mary J. Blige asserts her role as R&B's authoritative life coach on her 10th album, a sequel to her 1994 breakthrough effort. Her pain is less harrowing - she's older now and knows how to cope - so instead of singing only for herself, she's doing it for her listeners, a noble goal but also dull and predictable. Working with the usual producers and songwriters, Blige front-loads My Life II with beats reminiscent of her grimier 90s output and ends with a handful of easy-listening ballads that wouldn't sound out of place in the final credits of Disney's next blockbuster.
During the promotional press tour for her latest album, My Life II: The Journey Continues, Mary J. Blige appeared on the British talk show, Later with Jools Holland. Filling and flattering a pink dress with the grace of a statue wearing stone, she stood next to a black, baby grand piano. With the aid of stiletto heels, she towered above Holland as he played the notes of “Need Someone”.
Blige’s most enjoyable, exciting and consistent album in years. Lloyd Bradley 2011 Three tracks into this album and you’re slapped around the head with the essence of Mary J. Blige. Midnight Drive claims no samples, delivering the kind of brash, uncluttered hip hop that’s always worked best for this singer.