STRENGTH OF A WOMAN by Mary J. Blige
Genre: Contemporary R&B
Favorite Tracks: “Survivor”
During one of our usual Crossfader meetings, Music Editor Carter and I talked about the recent Metallica record, and how unnecessary and somewhat sad he found it. They have firmly established themselves as legends in thrash metal, and at this point, the only thing they can do is sully that legend with mediocre albums that at best only remind their fans of their former, better work, and at worst, reflect the band’s age and how far music has moved past them. Though I believed HARDWIRED . . . possessed some merit, I was reminded of his opinion listening to STRENGTH OF A WOMAN, even if there should have been enough creative inspiration to avoid such a sad fate.
Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip hop soul, forever changed R&B in the mid-90s by combining it with hip hop, leading it to a point today where the differences between the two seem miniscule. Since then she has rivaled Lil Wayne in sheer number of people she’s worked with, with her 13th album adding DJ Khaled, Kaytranada, and BadBadNotGood to her extensive list, and has produced beautiful ballads and infectious dance tracks alike. The emotional inspiration stemming from her recent divorce should have been the perfect ingredient for a potent record, but its obnoxious inconsistencies and over-abuse of cliches prevent it from leaving any impact.
The fact that STRENGTH is all over the place stylistically is not a problem by itself, but none of its various musical excursions are especially enjoyable. Every piece of percussion seems to have had their volume cranked up all the way, and it can be hard to judge what the mood of a track is supposed to be, especially when the vocal and musical emotions seem to contradict. The closing track, “Hello Father,” features creepy strings and a squealing solo, while Blige joyfully sings in a track about her religious devotion and how far it’s gotten her, while the faux-inspirational “Indestructible” features a synthetic beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Weeknd song. Most of the instrumentation is just dull, with compositions that go in bizarre directions and never knew when to stop. “Survivor” is the only song that front-to-back feels consistent with minimal trap snares that don’t interfere with Blige’s boasts.
If you took a look at the track lists and thought the song titles were a little predictable, the lyrics aren’t going to change your mind. They run the predictable gamut of post-breakup cliches, from feeling confused at a spouse’s paranoia, to gradual recognition of how far they’ve drifted, to venomous anger (featuring the usual warnings of the horrible hell their lover will find themselves in), to declarations that they can have fun riding solo, to what is essentially, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” All of this is delivered as on-the-nose as a Kelly Clarkson song, with no interesting figurative language to offer some spice or bright, infectious hooks that make Clarkson occasionally enjoyable. Worst of all, Mary no longer has the serenity or conviction to sell cliche, and it can often be hard to tell what she’s even saying, as, “You’ve got to feel yourself / before you feel somebody else” is mangled, “You’ve got to feed yourself / before you feed somebody else” on the opener “Love Yourself.”
Divorce albums are fairly common, so an artist has to find some way to give theirs a stronger sense of identity, whether it be through creative lyrics or strong song crafting, because their emotional journey is one that many listeners are familiar with. STRENGTH comes through with none of these upgrades, as it stacks one uninteresting cliche and song after another for almost an hour. It fails to live up to its title in more ways than one, and confirms every bad prediction I had about it going into it. Blige can do so much better than this. She either didn’t try hard enough, or tried her best but couldn’t avoid the fate that befalls many late-period legends.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend