‘Growing Pains’ is Mary J Blige’s eighth full studio set and it seems we’ve been waiting for its release for some time – begging the question as to whether the waiting was worth it. Well, for fans of the self-styled Queen of Hip-Hop soul, the answer is a very definite yes. However, for those who’ve never been absolutely convinced, then the doubts will remain. The 16 tracker is everything we’ve come to expect of the lady – musically, lyrically and physically. The packaging is glossy, the artwork is flawless, the music is polished and the lyrics explore similar sentiments to her most recent outings. But the set lacks the big blockbuster and/or the shock value that made ‘What’s The 411?’ such a throat-grabber. Mary’s even employed some new producers this time around. But for whatever reason people like Tricky Stewart, Pharrell and the Stargate people have failed to forge new directions and, in honesty, her fans would say there’s no need to. The old adage of not fixing something till it’s broken springs to mind – so here we get the same mix of feel-good beaters and self-exploratory ballads. Of those quasi-biographical songs, ‘Roses’ is possibly the edgiest and most honest as Mary opines that she now loves her man, knows her place, but needs a little more love, ‘cos it ain’t all roses. ‘Work In Progress’ (subtitled ‘Growing Pains’) is another fierce personal statement with a plea for everyone to look past her celebrity. Both cuts have a broody, introspective depth but feel-good moments are never too far away. The set opens with the very bright ‘Work That’ – complete with a lovely tinkling piano, while the lead single, ‘Just Fine’ is full of real soul energy too. The beats on ‘Til The Morning’ are more complicated, while the Ludacris collaboration that is ‘Grown Woman’ will keep the R&B crew smiling. The Usher duet, ‘Shake Down’ is another ultra-catchy cut though ‘Fade Away’ with its tight beats is possibly the best modern soul dancer. As with all Mary J albums, ‘Growing Pains’ offers value and real variety but some harder-nosed critics might say they’ve heard it all before.