To many, Blige is like a big sister who they’ve watched grow from a bratty, unruly teenager, into a refined, seasoned woman with all the trimmings of a Hollywood star – and this journey has been documented in her music.
Flip through her eight-album catalog and the titles of her work – No More Drama, The Breakthrough, Growing Pains – read like self-help books. And in a sense, that’s what Blige has become: an advocator of strength and female empowerment, never afraid to vocalize her own personal struggles.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that her ninth studio set would be called Stronger with Each Tear, a fitting addition to her you-can’t-keep-a-good-woman-down body of work. All the ingredients are there: powerful ballads, preachy anthems and collaborations with the rapper of the moment. There’s only one thing missing: songs!
The queen of hip-hop soul only offers up twelve tracks on her latest disc, her shortest album since What’s the 411 debuted almost 20 years ago.
Tear opens with “Tonight,” a moody track laced with a dark beat, produced by Akon. Blige would rather love than fight with her lover, insisting they put all their differences aside for a night of fun, but the song pales in comparison to the fiery “I Love You (Yes I Du).” Here, Blige sings with urgency and rigor as she desperately tries to find clarity in a murky relationship: “‘Cause when I’m giving you loving I feel you’re holding back/We can’t be in the same room and I don’t know where you’re at/You say you love me love me/Boy do you love me/I don’t know.”
Blige sings circles around Trey Songz who makes a lackluster appearance halfway through “Hood Love,” but she spices things up with “Kitchen.” On this sassy track (co-written by The Dream), Blige stakes her claim as the woman of the house and vehemently dares any chick to try and step foot into the heart of her home: “All up in your fridge, and next will be the stove/Never let a girl cook in your kitchen/When it all gets hot, everything drops, eyes on your man, hands on your pot/if she runs in to help, tell her stay right in her spot/Never let a girl cook in your kitchen.” Ms. Mary is a mack on the flirty dance track
“Good Love” featuring T.I., and she reminds folks that she’s just fine on the piano-driven “I Feel Good.”
Unfortunately, Tear is saddled with the heavy-handed ballad “Each Tear” and the Ryan Leslie produced “Said and Done,” which sounds like a recycled beat from his recent flop Transition. But all is forgiven once you get to “I Can See in Color.” You have no choice but to bow down to the queen as she teaches a master class in vocal discipline on this powerful song lifted from the Precious soundtrack.
Blige wrote the lyrics after watching the film about a sexually abused teenage mother of two. She rests her soulful hums and gut-wrenching riffs and runs on a bed of soft, delicate background vocals as she unflinchingly sings about seeing the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. And then, just like that, the album is over.
One can’t help but wonder: has Blige run out of things to say? Was this project rushed? Is this merely a preview of more to come?
Whatever the case, hardcore MJB fans turning to Tear for a lengthy motivational uplift may need to pick up a do-it-yourself guide as this abridged effort will leave you crying for more.
Shydel James is an actor/writer based in the NJ/NYC metro area.
He holds a BA in theatre from SUNY Empire State College and has acted in numerous film and stage productions.
When Shydel isn't busy learning monologues, he's hunched over his beloved MAC, pumping out stories for Upscale magazine where he's been a contributing writer for two years.
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