First Impressions: Mary J. Blige Is 'Stronger' Yet Not Much Has Changed...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nobody can express human strength and spirit as poignantly as Miss Blige. As the reigning queen of hip-hop/soul, Mary J. Blige has built a catalog of albums that contain compositions about the roller coaster ups n' downs of life, and all the speed bumps inbetween. True, her stitch of album themes hasn't changed much since the 90's, still in a way with each album, a piece of Mary has become much more realized to her listening public. Now on the singer's 9th studio album release, we hear another fragment of her soul bared, yet, it's not as bold nor as incessant as in previous outcries.

The introduction into the fabric of Stronger With Each Tear, as lead-off single "The One" left a salty taste in the mouth and one that showcased that Blige has been moseying  down the thorny primrose path into auto-tune. Follow-up leaks, "Said & Done" and "I Am" weren't totally off putting, but seemed like they were missing that special something. In some ways, Stronger With Each Tear, while consistent in that it sticks to its guns, but as a whole really doesn't offer anything that is remotely "new"...and doesn't really show much growth. Yet, it is not without merit...

Mary J. Blige never sounds out of place, and her voice clearly spreads through the songs as effervescent as ever. "Tonight" robustly begins the set on an interesting note, but seems to peter out with stamina as it trudges along, making it an odd opening tone to the album. The pace is changed when the catch n' grab brass sprinkle itself over the funky exterior of "Good Love". The track, which features T.I.,  is a shining standout and shows some vibrancy and expansion on Mary's part. Think of it as the rabble rousing cousin to 2008's "Just Fine".
A gorgeous converge of electronic and classical piano pop up on the silky, "I Feel Good". The instrumentation and Mary's fluctuating vocal tones add an intricate touch to this track. A standout for sure.
The melodic "Each Tear" trumpets that "each tear brings you closer to your dream" and the lyrical make-up of this track is admirable and down right lovely. "Kitchen" features a sparse pounding back beat, that morphs into a punchy sing-song soul swing, and it's wrapped in interest due to the word play. A soft tinkling of piano, in with a surge of trumpets begins the wonderful, "In The Morning", which shows Mary at her vocally and heart on sleeve best. Definitely one of the standout cuts on here. The final cut, "I Can See In Color" is also riveting with its quiet Blues moan, and its another track that showcases Mary's vocals to a tee.
Strangely, this album is like what a lot of 2009 albums by R&B's veterans have been containing. There is alot of holding back, some uncertainty of style, with spurts of inspiration and one or two really monumental tracks. Fans will no doubt be divided in their thinking of how this album is conducted, but anyone who has heard 1993's My Life, 1997's Share My World, and 2005's The Breakthrough know that this is just small bananas to what Mary is truly capable of. Even though there are some stellar cuts, a lot of this feels uneven and some tracks ("The One" and "Hood Love" to name a few) are flat out uninspired and seem to just be thrown together.

At a glance, Mary J. Blige has set the bar over the course of her career with her previous records and her influential style, and yet, she hasn't surpassed that bar herself. Stronger With Each Tear picks up where 2007's Growing Pains left off, but it doesn't offer anything remotely ground-breaking or expands on the sound that is Blige.

Rating: 7.8/10
Release Date: December 22, 2009


  1. I agree with Jen. This album is just so so to me. I heard it once and don't have much of a desire to listen to it again. Thumbs down Mary! I, too know that she is capable of much more.

  2. Still getting into this one. Definitely not her best work. I do love "I Am" though even though she's veered too much into Mariah territory on it. Happy Holidays Jen! x


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