Mary J Blige, we do bloody love you but we have to get this out of the way: that new bob is going to forever remind us of the Hilary Clinton dancerie meme. Right, now that that’s out of the way… oh look, Strength Of A Woman only starts with a feature from Kanye bloody West. Turns out that even after 13 albums Ms Blige can continue to surprise and excite us.
The brilliant thing is, however, that she doesn’t need to rely on gimmicks or features to do that, and this album confirms that. Even if Love Yourself goes a bit RuPaul ‘how the hell are you gonna love somebody else’, it still acts as a joyous precursor to the rest of it. And it’s a marvel to see how Mary J continues to move with grace through the times. If The London Sessions capitalised on the proliferation of UK soul, the new album mixes her classic style on songs like Set Me Free (although you’ll never hear a sweeter or more savage coo of the phrase “there’s a special place in hell for you”) while giving her new life with the Future-like delivery of Thick Of It and Glow Up. The latter complete with revenge-sex orgasm sounds. Oh yes.
And while Telling The Truth doesn’t quite match the sum of its parts, the fact that a veteran like her is seeking out blog darling is seeking out Kaytranada and BADBADNOTGOOD is impressive in itself. Essentially, it proves what we’ve known for a while: Mary J Blige makes music as a lover of music, and she’s cooler than any of your faves even when she’s doing disco-stompers like Find The Love.
If she’s newly divorced, she’s certainly turned it into something positive and self-assured. Not that Blige has ever sounded anything other than that, but songs like It’s Me are up there with one of her best. At that point of the album it’s clear that she’s set out on a mission to reinforce her Strength of A Woman, and already hammered home the point way before the need for songs like Thank You and Survivor. The second half could do without some of these trite moments and feelgood epithets, but there’s more light and class here than most of her peers are managing at this stage. Hail Mary indeed.