There are some weeks when I can’t decide whether there’s any new music I want to buy, and there are other weeks when the decision is easy. Last week was an easy week. I have been a Mary J. Blige fan for years and was very excited about the release of her tenth album, “My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1)”. Back in 1994, Mary J. Blige released her second album (“My Life”) that ended up going triple platinum. The songs were largely autobiographical and clearly written from the heart.
Fast forward 17 years to “My Life II”, an update to where she is in her life now. She helpfully sets the stage on “My Life II” with an intro featuring a fake phone conversation with Sean “P. Diddy Puff Daddy” (depending on the year) Combs. Puff really launched Mary J. Blige’s career and produced a decent number of the songs on the original “My Life” album. In their faux conversation, he reminds her that to match the first album she’s “gotta come with it”, to which she responds that this is an extension of the first album, not a competitor. And off we go.
When I started listening to “My Life II”, I was fresh off listening to the new Florence + The Machine album, which is really powerful. In comparison, “My Life II” initially felt a little less memorable. However, as the week progressed and I kept listening, I started to appreciate the restraint shown in these songs.
Because both “My Life” albums reflect Mary J. Blige at a particular point in her life, I did a bit of a comparison. I listened to the original “My Life” with the lyrics last night and did the same with “My Life II” this morning. The original “My Life” comes off as a little desperate. She’s in a relationship with someone who she senses isn’t good for her, but she can’t leave him and in many songs sounds like she’s begging him to come back to her.
One would expect (and hope for) some maturity in 17 years, and while Mary J. Blige still seems to suffer from some relationship drama (despite being married now) she definitely has a different voice on “My Life II”. She’s much more confident, and she’s the one largely calling the shots rather than being at the whim of her man. In some cases she’s the one pulling the plug on the relationship.
Blah, blah, blah, right? Most people won’t listen to “My Life II” because they want to catch up on Mary J. Blige’s personal growth. The songs have to be good. However, her life and the quality of the songs are largely intertwined. Her personal perspective gives the songs a lot of depth and feeling. She also duets with various popular contemporaries (Drake, Beyoncé) for some variety. And her voice is as rich and powerful as ever. She’s not necessarily trying to make pop hits.
“My Life II” is one of those albums that will grow on you with each listen. And paying attention to the lyrics will definitely make the listening experience more meaningful. I had “My Life II” playing in the kitchen most of the holiday weekend while I was making my assigned dishes for Thanksgiving and while I was puttering around while one or another of my kids chatted with me. My 13- year old daughter estimated that she heard the song “Why” 600 times during the last four days. That might be an exaggeration, but not much.
By the way, if you’re curious about the title including “Act 1”, it’s because “Act 2” will be released in May 2012. Here is the video for “25/8”, her first single from “My Life II”. Enjoy!
Filed under: Album Reviews