Monica – New Life
2.75 stars out of 5
In the classic plotting of an average pop star’s trajectory, Monica is on a “good” upswing. She’s married, she’s happy, she’s mending relationships (see: duet with Brandy on “It All Belongs To Me”), she’s maturing and she’s finally becoming a woman. The styling, the songs, the placement in the media, EVERYTHING is being positioned to mirror this fact. With her latest album New Life, Monica is embracing these things vocally and lyrically, for the most part. There are some fumbles and forays into all too familiar territory, but for the most part, she’s aging gracefully as illustrated on this disc.
However, Monica’s classic and continuing blunder in my opinion has been her song selection. Can Monica sing? Yes. That’s never been a question since she came out the gate. When a Monica song is good, it’s good. It’s memorable. Her unique voice and vibrato have always set her apart from the common “here today, gone tomorrow” R&B starlet. Moncia has been in the business for many a year, and has had good and bad deals, struggled through a lot, and then brought her fans into her world via her music so that they could understand and share the journey with her, which has contributed to her longevity in the business.
But once again, Monica doesn’t smartly choose her material in my opinion. Hands down, the best songs are the ones produced by Missy Elliott and/or co-written by Jazmine Sullivan. The duo saves the album with some fair-to-middling tunes that stand out relatively as the best of the disc. “Until It’s Gone” is the best song on this album. Other standouts are “Cry”, also co-written by Sullivan, and the Polow Da Don-produced “Without You”. Other than those however, the songs blend together and Monica’s voice gets lost in a sea of tepid-R&B/hip-hop influenced flotsam and jetsam. Honorable mention goes to Cainon Lamb, however. I’m not sure if it is Monica’s interpretation of the songs or the songs themselves that makes this album feel a bit “flat”.
It’s especially jarring however after listening to “It All Belongs To Me” how much a well-written song makes a difference. If you contrast Brandy & Monica’s other duet to this “new” duet of theirs, you truly see how the SONG was great, and they were just key players in it. What made “The Boy Is Mine” magical was the well-written song and production. It was different. It was fresher. Even the song structure of it was original, because the chorus/hook preceded anything else. “It All Belongs To Me” comes across as cliche’ and too targeted for pop crossover, and fails even at that. “Anything To Find You” is a failed attempt to include the ever-buzzing Rick Ross, and is immediately forgettable as a single.
Overall, Monica sounds great. We’re glad for her. But she has had chance after chance, scrapped album after scrapped album and single, to prove her place in the pantheon of R&B history. She’ll always be recognizable because of her past achievements, but at some point, will her later material continue to hold her a place in R&B’s future?