Review of The London Sessions by Mary J Blige
So I write this review, tinged with some genuine sadness (or perhaps disappointment is a more apt word). For years I have been a huge fan of Mary J Blige. Her voice has been a beacon for others to aspire to in the hip hop soul category, or whatever label you want to associate with it. Strong vocal ability, paired with great production meant Mary J popped out classic after classic and staying true to who she is.
Yes some albums were stronger than others. Some tracks used different techniques but throughout it all, there was a Mary J style, that made her more than a serial warbler knocking out love ballads a la Leona Lewis and Mariah Carey. All this, whilst battling drug and drink addictions is huge credit to her, her ability and her determination. The fact that she is in her second year being sober is also to be commended.
I still look back to the gig I saw her perform some five years ago now at the O2 in London. She banged out every big tune and mixed with some newer material, but throughout she put on a show. Her energy was electrifying and her connection with the audience was unquestionable. So the more inquisitive of you may be asking why did I open in the way I did?
Well, its simple. The London Sessions as an idea is quite good. Match up one of the most successful female singers of all time, who needs to create currency, with some of the most talked about and hyped British acts of the moment and surely its a winning formula.
For me, no not quite. The album is a collection of twelve tracks (value for money right there). None of the songs are a disaster. You can’t point your finger at Mary J Blige for being off point either. The issues I have with it are twofold.
Firstly, this doesn’t feel like an album. It feels like a bit of a PR stunt or an experiment and thrown together. With this in mind, it fits OK with the playlist generation, but kind of defeats the point of an album. Secondly, its just not very Mary J Blige. Again, nothing wrong with the the tracks, all well produced and written (in the main by Rodney Jerkins and Mary J herself), but also at the level a lot of contemporary artists could reach. There is nothing special about it as a body of work.
There, now thats off my chest, what about the highlights? The opening track Therapy, shows Mary J Blige demonstrate her gospel edge. Strong vocals, good production and lyrics and delivery that almost pay homage to Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. For me, this is possibly the highlight of the album. Right Now is a good track too, largely underwritten by the morphed synths underpinning the track.
Its great to see the likes of Disclosure and Sam Smith get run outs and both contribute positive aspects to the album. However, the mixes of styles and influences confuses my mind as a listener of the album. Perhaps the most glaring track to stand out (for the wrong reasons) is Long Hard Look. This feels like something you could have heard Girls Aloud knock out when vying to fight off the Spice Girls hangover.
The London Sessions, does provide an interesting showcase for UK talent. However the way we are dominating the music scene at the moment, I would question who is this meant to benefit more? Mary J Blige or the likes of Naughty Boy and Emeli Sande? My guess is the former.
Just to reiterate, in the main, the majority of tracks work on their own, even if none really set the world on fire. It just doesn’t feel like an album for me. To be completely cynical, it smacks a little bit of desperation by riding on the coat tails of British music success at present.
Maybe this view is skewed by the fact that Mary J Blige keeps sending me annoying DMs on Twitter talking about self-promotion. Once the record label get hold of your Twitter, you know you are losing your connection and realism.
Genuinely sorry Mary J. We do still love you. This just isn’t your best piece of work.