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Saturday, January 05, 2008


Modmusic: Mary J. Blige

I'm not unsympathetic to the grousings of Mary J. Blige's longtime fans about her new CD, Growing Pains. It is a different sound for R&B's deep-suffering diva, and contrary to the popular truism, change is not always a good thing. But I've got to disagree with their analysis: despite its compromises to the pop realities of 2008, Growing Pains is a marvelous installment in this fascinating woman's catalog, one that perhaps serves as a model for surviving stardom in the digital age.

What I think must drive the detractors crazy is the coy radio-friendliness of Growing Pains. Blige's all-star roster of producers, arrangers and songwriters have tried to have it both ways...to preserve Blige's credibility (duets with Usher and Ludacris, check; production by Stargate, check) while forging a more accessible sound to reach a wider audience. There are numerous nods to funk and disco, with old-schoolish jams dominating the style. She doesn't dumb down her arrangements or her lyrical fury, but she recontextualizes it, parsing it into digital-download, iPod-friendly shapes. (At times, the album sounds like an endless parade of can't-miss singles...and if you've been watching the industry over the last two years, you know it's the way of the future.) While some may bemoan this transition, at this point in her career, chasing the latest trends doesn't befit a maturing semi-legend...and finding a way for her fan base to grow while aging with her is classy and smart.

Yeah, I said "maturing." As Blige let us know on her 2006 CD, The Breakthrough, she's had "Enough Cryin" over failed romantic relationships, and isn't going to sacrifice anymore ("Take Me As I Am"). Great messages for young women, to be sure...but a year older and wiser, she's suffering the Pains of growing into new identity. Not within herself, mind you...as the second track, "Grown Woman," establishes, Blige is in search of a man who can match her maturity, and is woefully frustrated at finding boys where men should be. On "Roses" she croons, "I know my place/I know my worth/It's ain't all roses, flowers and poses." On the Neptunes-produced bounce "Til The Morning," she lets her paramour know that romance needs more than the occasional text-message. Profound? Maybe not. True as hell? Preach it, sister.

(One other thing: I suggest downloading the iTunes version, which has three excellent bonus tracks, including a duet with Eve.)

Watch Some Videos:
"Just Fine", Mary J. Blige
"Take Me As I Am", Mary J. Blige
"Enough Cryin'", Mary J. Blige
Download (For One Week):
"Roses", Mary J. Blige
"Til The Morning", Mary J. Blige
Visit: Official Site, Elbo.ws, MySpace, iTunes
Then Buy: Growing Pains, Mary J. Blige

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Blogger psyther said...

I couldn't agree more. Here with have a beautiful star that has proven her talent time and time again, building a strong fan base along the way. This time around she's getting a backlash of frustration and dismay because she's played it safe or somehow abandoned the sound that made her Mary J. Blige. This stance is frustrating to me. She is the artist and this is her music--bottom line. Sure, she'd like to share the experience with you and hope you follow her lyrically and understand where she is right now in her life...it all comes from the music. Can you honestly say you'd rather hear the same sound with the same message album after album? Stagnation is a death sentence. People, even artists, have to grown and evolve...and will change over time. Is this her best work to date? Not really? Is this music awful or plastic wrapped in cookie-cutter production? No. As much as I adore artists that do not compromise their sound on any level (aka M.I.A.), this industry does require you sell albums. If you aren't making money you can't continue to record your next album. Mary J. Blige obviously made a very delicate balance between her old, established, true sound with what her label needed to move albums off shelves and exploring her sound. I think she's done well and look forward to the next foray. Snaps for Mary.

1/5/08, 11:34 AM  
Blogger ZenDenizen said...

Just Fine is a great single but I can't get over those awful short blonde wigs. And what's with the MJ circa 1980 tuxedo in the video?

1/5/08, 11:38 AM  
Blogger ModFab said...

Zen, you hate those wigs?!?!?! I ADORE THEM! I think she looks brilliant, like some weird Diana Ross record from the 70's. Different tastes, I guess. :-)

1/5/08, 12:55 PM  
Blogger paul @ www.thezapping.com said...

i heard there was to be a Maroon 5 duet on this album, but i guess maybe that was the whole Mark Ronson remix of Wake Up Call that she sang on?

1/5/08, 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that "Smoke" is such an interesting song that shows how MJB is reaching out to other genres. It's probably the one I listen to most.

1/5/08, 9:27 PM  
Blogger jason said...

Oh, Mary just keeps making me love her over and over, dammit.
I'm such a fag sometimes.

1/6/08, 12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the recommendation. I love MJB and the iTunes Version with the bonus tracks is FANTASTIC.

I love her empowerment and her lament about finding someone to match her maturity. It's not easy but then if you want someone special, it shouldn't be...

I like her realistic view of things. A rare glimpse in today's music world.

Thanks again for the iTunes rec.

1/6/08, 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope Feel Like A Woman will be a single.
The lyrics did it for me:

Boy, buy me a bag or buy me some shoes
This is a part of me that I’m trying to get you used to

1/7/08, 6:20 PM  

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