MARY J BLIGE: Stronger With Each Tear (Label: Geffen)

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MARY J BLIGE: Stronger With Each Tear

There aren’t too many certainties in the wonderful world of soul music – but one is that each new Mary J Blige album is eagerly anticipated by discerning soulsters. An equal certainty is that said eager soulsters won’t be too sure about what to expect from said new product. Predictably Ms Blige is unpredictable. Each of her previous albums usually found her in a particular mood – depending on where exactly she was at when putting it all together. ‘Stronger With Each Tear’ is the lady’s ninth studio set and it’s just a tad different to the previous eight in that the music finds her in all kinds of different moods. In places she’s coming through the pain and fighting to transcend life’s difficulties; elsewhere she’s her old feisty self – strong and proud- the girl you just wouldn’t upset; at times, here, she an old romantic, happy with her man and the accompanying lot; equally, she still extols the virtues of those big party nights with her girls. Complex? I’ll say… then, if that’s not enough, she offers two Led Zeppelin covers. She kicks the album off with a racing version of their anthem ‘Whole Lotta Love’, featuring Orianthi on the famous Jimmy Page guitar part. It’s good enough … and maybe after eight albums she just wants to prove that she can still pull rabbits out of the hat… a trick she repeats with an unusual, full orchestral version of the same band’s epic ‘Stairway To Heaven’. It’s hard to imagine anyone else having the balls to tackle two such classic “other-genre” songs. Certainly none of the current R&B princesses would have the nerve (or the ability?) to do it; then as if to prove to those princesses that it’s easy to do what they do, she knocks off a whole sweep of classy contemporary R&B swingers. Of those the Ne-Yo produced ‘Good Love’ is particularly catchy while the Will-I-Am collaboration, ‘I Can’t Wait’, is bob on the current sound. You like ballads? Well, ‘I Am’ is as good as anything you’ll hear on MTV Base’s down moments. It’s a tough cut with zero sentimentality and the better for it, and it even sounds surprisingly good in the Dave Aude dance remix at the end. Old school soulsters though, will probably find the lovely ‘In The Morning’ more to their taste. It’s a great 70s throwback with a delightful interplay between the strings and brass. Add to all that a couple of brooding movie songs (‘Color’ from ‘Precious’ and ‘Stronger’ from ‘More Than A Game’) and you have as a diverse an album as any Ms. Blige has previously released. Unpredictable and complex – yes; but there’s an absolute certainty as to who is still the Queen of contemporary soul.
(BB) 4/5