Rather oddly for a Mary J Blige (all hail) album, the headlines about her latest album have been about anything but that powerhouse pedigree. Sure, collaborations with Disclosure and Sam Smith (and, sigh, Emeli Sande) are very exciting, but let’s be very clear: The London Sessions is a record more than the sum of its collaborators, and that’s thanks to its leading lady.
The aim was, of course, to recreate the lived-in London sound and capture that distinct sound we’re responsible for, whether we’re chasing pavements of being fools for you. That recreation is an overwhelming success on this album, which certainly couldn’t sound more modern London if it tried – for better or worse, in fact. There’s the Sam Smith and Adele school of piano balladry that Blige cakewalks as the album unfurls, taking it to church on a regular basis with Therapy and Doubt. But of course, that genre also brings with it the drudgery of the over-sung, which Blige unfortunately falls foul of on When You’re Gone.
But it’s a striking and well-crafted balance to where the diva shines, which is on her tour of club life: with Right Now and the astounding My Loving on one side, Nobody But You and Naughty Boy‘s Pick Me Up on the other, you could pretty much build a night’s DJ set around these corkers. And if there’s any question over Blige’s relevance – or for that matter, business – in the genre, give Follow a listen. Stand back, marvel, and repeat as she puts a generation of upstarts in their place.
Again, that’s what unifies this collection that had the potential to sound so ordinary in other hands. Blige’s reputation means that she doesn’t need to set up camp in a new city and tap into its musical veins, but she does with both respect and aplomb. It also puts her a good way ahead of label bosses scrambling to find a sound for their stars; if Mary J’s owt to go by, it could just be a tube ride away. Mind the gap, bitches.