At the end of 2013? It was A Mary Christmas that really made a huge difference during what amounted to a needlessly strained late December. I was very impressed by the eloquently soulful and jazzy environment it presented. It seemed that Mary J. Blige was finally on a path to becoming more musically herself. Throughout the her career? I’d always felt that her albums showed,at the very least enormous potential. And at best even funkified,soulful greatness. On the other hand? She was “the queen of hip-hop soul”. This meant that many of her albums became saddled down by guest rappers whose often profane narcissism seemed too awkward a fit with Mary’s frank,raw emotional expression. The “two sides of the same coin” theme that presented itself stopped being a musical revelation after a time. Today its really a formula. And a sometimes tragically overused one. Mary always seemed more about vocalizing and instrumental showcases/interpretation than merely being a vehicle for carrying people from another genre on her back all the time. A month or so back? This album was announced. Its a soundtrack of a sequel to a film I’ve never actually seen. But one thing I always felt was an almost ideal vehicle for vital soul/funk music is the soundtrack medium-extending as far back as Uptight by Booker T & The MG’s in 1968 and Isaac Hayes’ iconic,Academy award winning Shaft four years later. So this was something I was anticipating hearing and,as typical with a Mary J. Blige album? Entered into the listening experience without prejudice based on anything positive or negative regarding the past.
“A Night To Remember” opens the album with a bright,open ended late 70’s funk extravaganza. Its full of the sort of celebratory bass,guitar,drums,
horns and keyboards right out of the Slave/Michael Jackson/EWF school of that era. And lyrically eluding to many of the greats of that era. “Vegas Nights”,featuring guest vocals (as opposed to a rap) by The-Dream is a strongly percussive and fast paced number that embraces both the multiple synthesizer squiggles of electro-funk while also having the dynamic sonic melodicism of the boogie sound. “Moment Of Love” is a furiously funky,stripped down number where Mary’s melodic chorus is matched to a thumping bass/guitar line. Pharrell Williams shows up for one of (if not my favorite number here) in “See That Boy Again”. This is a complex number that actually brings out the strong Latin/Brazilian element in its hybridizing of the melodically surprising and strong Stevie Wonder/Gamble & Huff sound-full of that soulfully jazz/funk twist Pharrell is often more than capable of infusing his music with. “Wonderful” is another melodically complex piece with a thumping,bassy modern hip-hop friendly funkiness that never takes its eye of it’s classic hard funk orientation. “Kiss And Make Up” is a sleek,grooving disco-funk era urban contemporary mid-tempo ballad while “Cargo” has a soul/jazz type electric piano based groove about it. “Suitcase” and “Power Back” are the only songs I am not instrumentally wowed by as they seem to be somewhat self consciously trying to be “new” rather than making any creative statement of their own.
“I Want You” is a heavily orchestrated,cinematic soul/rock with a rising chorus and gospel oriented climax. “Self Love” is a Minneapolis sounding electronically oriented new wave/funk ballad where the character in the song is wishing for her lover to show her the affection he does for himself. “All Fun And Games” does try to mix the “newness” with Mary’s love of 70’s cinematic soul and does pretty well. “Better” is a breezy,stripped down funk/soul/pop number with one of the most unusual low,distant keyboard sounds I’ve ever heard. “Propose” is a powerful ballad closer to the album that plays to the strong gospel oriented side of Mary’s soulfulness-with it’s huge piano chords and rhythm hand clapping throughout. As with just about every Mary J. Blige album I’ve ever heard? There are at least one or two very generic contemporary hip-hop/R&B numbers on this album. And they do drag the quality down just a notch. And that’s especially vital here as,especially at the beginning this sounds as if Mary is for once fully embracing the richly produced 70’s funk/soul/pop sound that’s always been key to her music. But which she only really broadly hinted at. Lyrically this album does tell a certain story of the distrust in a relationship that probably deals directly with the characters in the film. Which is interesting since not all of these songs are heard in the film according to the cover-proclaiming “All New Music From And Inspired By The Film”. For all intents and purposes? This is overall a very good,many times spectacular Mary J. Blige studio album. If she were to keep total focus on musicality rather than pandering to the “queen of hip-hop/soul” moniker more or less placed upon her? She would have an amazing body of music ahead of her!
Originally Posted On June 17th,2014
*A Link To My Original Amazon.com review: