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Mary J. Blige - The London Sessions (Album Review)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014 Written by Gavin Rees

Reinvention is the savvy pop star’s secret weapon and, sometimes, a gateway to new relevance in a world that will pass you by in heartbeat. So, with Mary J. Blige 22 years removed from ‘What’s The 411?’, she’s turned to some fresh blood on her bold new record, ‘The London Sessions’.

Recorded during a whirlwind stay in the English capital with some of the UK’s brightest songwriting and production talents - including Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes, Disclosure and pals - it finds Blige open to new ideas and keen to soak up the experience.

It’s a bit of a shame then, that her experimental spirit doesn’t translate into a grab-bag of exciting songs. Rather, this record is weighed down by its reliance on ballads and beset by a string of toe-curling interview snippets with certain contributors.

When Blige clicks with her collaborators, as she does on Disclosure link up Right Now or the enjoyably over-the-top Sam Romans co-write Doubt, then the power of her voice rises anew, with the sparks that flew when she recently jumped on F For You readily apparent.

The pop world is a different one to when Blige vied for space with Whitney Houston or Toni Braxton, but there are moments here where she stands head and shoulders above much of the modern competition. Not Loving You’s brief, stop-start "If I could, then I would" is classic Blige, for example, while Follow, another Disclosure collaboration, soars thanks to her layered melodies.

That the standard isn’t maintained across the full piece is disappointing, particularly when names like Emeli Sandé​ and Naughty Boy fail to make too much of an impact with Whole Damn Year, or as Therapy, a lumpen tribute of sorts to Amy Winehouse, trickles by.

‘The London Sessions’ is a bold move that hasn’t quite paid off. Still, when it does work, Blige reminds us just why she continues to command so much respect and admiration.

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