My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act 1)
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/16/2012
When Mary J. Blige released her outstanding second album in 1994, simply called My Life, it revealed a deeply troubled young woman who had poured her heart out into her songs in the hope that she would begin to heal and find peace in her life. It was a brutally honest statement from one so young at the time and it also made one thing clear: the new kid on the block was here to stay, and stay she has. Life these days would have to be a lot more comfortable, at least for Mary, as she has become one of the biggest names in the world of entertainment and settled down to a family life with a husband and three children.
Her work over the years has maintained a high standard; she isn’t afraid of trying new things and keeping up with the times, and she has rarely made a dud album. When I heard that her next project would be sequel of sorts to that ‘94 classic, I was immediately worried about how this thing would turn out, let alone the direction that team Blige would take. On her last (and one of her best) album, Stronger With Each Tear, Mary stripped things back and kept things simple, even shedding the usually 16-18 tracks down to just eleven. She also delivered possibly her best vocal performance across an entire album of her career.
So while I was hoping the follow-up would be along those lines, the reality is that for the first time in her career, MJB has taken a step back and tried to recreate the past. I still can’t see the connection between My Life II and the original album other than the title itself. A lot of the songs here don’t really fit with the introspective theme of the original nor one that the new title would suggest. Instead, it’s just an overblown, overlong generic R&B album that in only enhanced somewhat due to Mary’s fantastic voice and a few really great moments. As with the old days, Mary has welcomed a cavalcade of stars into the studio to help write and perform this album.
The overall production is slick and very polished, which at times is just way too shiny for Blige’s trademark grit: “Empty Prayers” and “Don’t Mind” both suffer this fate. Songs like “You Want This” and “Need Someone” are inoffensive but completely unremarkable and they have nothing on Blige’s best work – and I mean nothing. One track that receiving so much kudos at the moment is MJB’s cover of Chaka Khan’s dance/funk classic “Ain’t Nobody,” and I still don’t see why. Sure you can dance to it, but where’d the funk go? It’s just a bad attempt at recreating the sound of the ‘80s (which they nailed with synths) but its very light on bass and that song ain’t nothing without those chunky guitar chops. I hate it.
This album isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Some genuine gems are present and help to keep it from being a complete disaster. Of those moments, my personal favorites are “25/8” (girl-power anthem for 2011), “Mr. Wrong” (featuring the awesome Drake), and “Why” with Rick Ross, which is classic MJB. The most sour moment on the record is the horrid duet with Beyoncé “Love A Woman” that just, well…really sucks in an overly sentimental chick-flick soundtrack song way. The second half of the disc is a tad ballad heavy, but this is actually a welcome break form the swell of mediocre club-inspired tracks here. Of these ballads, “The Living Proof” is the best of the bunch as it’s essentially just a piano ballad that shows what a fine singer Blige really is.
Listening to My Life II doesn’t feel like a sequel to anything and like I said it bears no resemblance to My Life other than it being a MJB album. So while this album isn’t all bad and does have some genuinely fantastic songs, I won’t spend much time playing it when Blige has so much great work to listen to instead. It’s a C for competent, nothing more, nothing less.