Mary J. Blige – Stronger With Each Tear
3 stars out of 5
The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has returned to the scene with the heavily anticipated album Stronger With Each Tear. However, most die hard fans will probably notice from jump that the one thing missing from this album is a heavy dose of soul, which has been replaced with studio perfection and template beats by big name producers and songwriters. The grit that is Mary J. Blige has been replaced by a sheen of synths, claps, kicks and all too familiar production, sounds and songwriting.
Our track by track review takes you through the album, beat by beat. Get into it!
“Tonight” – This Kevin Cossom written, Runners produced and Akon assisted song kicks the album into low gear with a downtempo shuffle that is nice in and of itself. Mary’s laidback vocal sounds all glossy and polished though the song quickly loses your interest after the first 1 minute or so. It could be an instrumental for the car commercials that Mary is a spokeswoman for.
“The One” Featuring Drake – The Darkchild produced “The One” immediately lacks the spark of Mary’s past Darkchild collabs, and the auto-tune is sure to enrage diehard Mary fans. The Drake feature is neither here nor there and we all know it’s for publicity, though lines like “You would block me / but this ain’t Jenga” make you really stop and think “What is he really talking about?!” cause I don’t believe you “block” anything in Jenga. The pieces are blocks though! Disappointing. I’d venture to say that his bars were literally phoned in as he sounds disparate from the track.
“Said And Done” – Ryan Leslie turns in a Ryan Leslie production for Mary to sing over. That’s what this sounds like. It feels like Part A plugs into Part B and you get Part C. There’s no passion in this track and the ones preceding it. Mary sounds good, but she doesn’t sound invested in this Ryan Leslie track that was probably leftover from his Transition album. Cassie could easily be singing this, and that speaks volumes in and of itself…
“Good Love” Feat. T.I. – TIP probably laid this before he went to jail, and the Ne-Yo penned, Stereotypes helmed (Danity Kane’s “Damaged”) song sounds like a demo that Ne-Yo cut and at the last minute Mary said, “let me get that.” Even the backgrounds sound like a Ne-Yo song…I wonder if he’s on them. Another unmemorable paint by numbers track. Not bad in and of itself, just boring. And T.I. has turned in much more emotionally compelling material on his own albums. This reeks of “I got some bars for you Mary, before I get locked up…” Lines like “I’mma beat it like you stole it and you owe it to me” – Brooklynn did better last album.
“I Feel Good” – This Stargate produced and Ne-Yo co-written song takes has a bit of an European feel and is different from the rest of the album already. It’s a nice track and the structure and pattern of the song is immediately more interesting than anything we’ve heard up to this point.
“I Am” – Despite the similarities to Mary’s “Everything” in the beginning of this track, it’s the beginning of the real “meat” of Mary’s album, as she connects with the material and gives a more convincing performance vocally. This song bridges the Mary of old with the Mary of new. The Stargate produced and Johnta Austin co-written track gives the album some steam and “oomph”, though some would still say this song isn’t all that interesting musically/track-wise.
“Each Tear” – Supa Dups, largely a reggae-influenced produced this song for Mary, and it’s one of Mary’s more “inspirational”/“sista-girl” anthems that she likes to include on her albums. However, this title track seems more a bonus track to me. Mary’s voice is allowed to crack though & the character isn’t sapped out of her voice on this song, so it’s a welcome addition to the “sugary” stuff we had to sit through before it.
“I Love U (Yes I Du)” – Polow Da Don produced this joint, and the music is a nice bit of rhythm into a largely same-sounding palette of an album thus far. This and “I Feel Good” are the bright spots so far on the track tip. The vocal itself is also cool though it gets a little bit irritating as it just gets more and more overpowering on the hooks with all the production, vocals, Mary’s hollering and the repeated “echo” of the word “fair”. We get it! Ease off a bit! Otherwise an OK track.
“Hood Love” Feat. Trey Songz – I mean…what to say. This Bryan-Michael Cox track sounds just like any of his other previously produced Mary J. Blige tracks and ESPECIALLY Trey Songz helmed tracks. And Mary doing a duet with Trey Songz? I’m not getting how dude is getting all of these duets lately. Mary went from Dave Young to Trey Songz? Downgrade. Paint by numbers duet, just skip this.
“Kitchen” – Mary channels “old Mary” with this warning to her fellow women about other women being in your “kitchen” with your man. This one is sung as if Mary has been through this before, yes? The-Dream produced this simple track himself. The metaphor itself could be great, but the song seems a bit overly simple to get the point across. It feels a bit…half-baked, lyrically. This song could have been THAT Mary track on this album, almost. You know, her “Bust Your Windows” type joint.
“In The Morning” – Now, this song is one of the best on the album. Mary takes it back to the 80’s with this one. Horns, keys, halting and husky vocals and sparse percussion – this is the one. The vocals connect, soulful and meaningful. The music matches the sentiment. It feels honest. You can feel what she is singing. More tracks like this are what this album needed. The D. Emilie and Ron Fair co-produced track and lyrics by the Birchett sisters is the best on the album!
“I Can See In Color” – The Raphael Saadiq produced and Blige co-written song with her artist LaNeah really is the kind of music Blige is good at. Taken from Precious, this song ends the album on an emotional note, and leaves you wondering why Mary didn’t make more moving music like this! Moving, haunting and powerful, “I Can See In Color” is the stuff that Mary fans love her for — emotional performances that make you reflect on your life and touch your core. Raphael Saadiq and Mary are a powerful duo.
Overall, you are left wondering, especially after the last track “I Can See In Color”, why Mary went with so many songs that don’t sound like the latter. There’s a lot to be said when the majority of the album features drops by the producers before the artist even comes in singing. Mary is one of our generation’s superstars and who we turn to for “soul” if you are Top R&B Radio listener. She’s done music with Andrea Boccelli, Chaka Khan, Elton John and more, yet she defaults to such duets as Trey Songz and Drake.
This album is not terrible on its face but amongst Mary’s other albums it’s not a classic and “I Can See In Color” leaves you with too many “what ifs…”. Largely forgettable and a continuous stream of tracks that are cut from the same cloth detract from what could have been a good album by Mary. You’ll probably buy it and like it, but in a couple of months realize that you only listened to it a couple of times before you moved on to something else.