From the time of her first album back in 1992, Mary J. Blige digs into the deepest corners of personal emotion on every song. She takes listeners through her struggles with addiction, depression and finding love. Now, happily married and content with her place in life, Blige has a new well of emotions to draw from.
After eight studio albums, the singers latest offering, Growing Pains reveals an artist finally comfortable in her own skin and ready to take the next step in her musical development. Blige shows a newfound confidence and wisdom throughout Growing Pains and is not afraid to expose some of her faults. However, Blige still shows some signs of the needy, unsure singer the public has come to know.
Mary J. is always in top vocal form. Her distinctive voice has a kind of melodic cry that never gets in the way of the lyrics. Growing Pains first two singles are solid pop gems. Produced by Theron Otis Feemster, the energetic “Work That” is a highly danceable track. “Follow me follow me follow me/ Be yourself,” Blige commands. “Keep your head up high/ In yourself believe,” she advises on the energetic “Just Fine.” The message is loud and clear: be strong, and be yourself. Then bam! On the next track, “Feel Like A Woman,” Mary falls back into needy chick mode: “I want you to rescue me,” she declares.
From any other artist, this sudden change in personality would be startling. However, since this is Mary J. Blige, it somehow seems fitting that she falls back into some of her needy tendencies. Just three or four albums ago, Blige didn’t sing songs like “Just Fine,” so it’s a positive sign to see that growth.
Blige recruited several top quality co-writers and producers to help her put Growing Pains together. Among them are: the Neptunes, Tricky (of “Umbrella” fame), Ne-Yo, Andre Harris and Vidal Davis, and Brian-Michael Cox. Cox was a collaborator on Blige’s 2005 album, The Breakthrough and was featured on A&E’s Man Band as the producer of a single for the train wreck known as Sure Shot.
The Neptunes produced “Till Morning” has a funky sound that would make James Brown proud and “Stay Down” is reminiscent of the mid-nineties R&B a group like En Vogue would put out. The incongruous lyrical style is wonderful and includes a comical reference to The Jeffersons.
With Growing Pains, Mary J. Blige succeeds in creating an album that should appeal to her large fanbase, while allowing her to mature musically. Without losing the essence of who she is, Blige successfully blends several musical styles on Growing Pains. She sings with confidence, insecurity, joy and sadness, making for a very enjoyable listen.