The balance on the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul's recent albums was leaning too hip-hop, too sleek and too clever. Sure, she had declared "No More Drama," but pain (and the triumph over it) was an essential part of Blige's story. On "The London Sessions" (Capitol), she returns to it -- with some help from some of Great Britain's hottest singer-songwriters and producers, many of whom Blige's early work influenced.
In case there was any question about the new Mary, "The London Sessions" opens with "Therapy" -- a gospel spiritual co-written with Sam Smith and Adele collaborator Eg White about the power of counseling where she asks, "Why would I spend the rest of my days unhappy ... when I can go therapy?"
It's a sign of the power of "The London Sessions" that it opens with four ballads, including the stunning, esteem-building "Doubt," without losing momentum. In fact, the most memorable moment on the album is "Whole Damn Year," co-written with Emeli Sande and Knox Brown, when Blige declares, "Winter took most of my heart, and spring punched me right in the stomach. Summer came looking for blood, and by autumn I was left with nothing."
However, it's the dance songs where Blige makes her great leap forward. On "Pick Me Up," she rides Naughty Boy's updated house music groove with grand results. Her current single, "Right Now" -- produced by Disclosure, whose early collaboration with Blige inspired the entire project -- shows why she retains her throne.
THE GRADE A
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