Mary J. Blige has been through it all pleasure, pain, trials, and tribulations. Through it all, she has managed to make some of the most soul-stirring music that we have seen in the last couple of decades. Since her debut album, What’s the 411, Blige has opened up to the world about her life and what she has experienced. With the success of her last LP The Breakthrough, she gained newfound mainstream appeal while still catering to her core fanbase. But the same cannot be said about her latest album Growing Pains, a fairly decent effort that mainly comes off as uneven and not that creative.
There is an array of different factors that make Growing Pains, at best, a decent album. One reason is that some of the songs on the LP are contradictions of one another, evident with the lead single “Just Fine” and “Feel Like A Woman.” Both are outstanding songs, but on the former Mary discusses emotional liberation where as on the other she is expressing a sense of dependency on a man to make her feel good. Those two tracks could also be contrasted with “Grown Woman,” where Mary is rattling off the brand names of material items. Likewise for the dated Neptunes produced “Till the Morning” and the Tricky Stewart produced “Roses,” where again both songs’ subject matter is like night and day of one another. The lack of creative vision on this album is definitely a problem. The subject matter does not stray far away from themes that Mary J. Blige has touched on before on her previous albums, but with 16 lengthy tracks, tales of insecurity, loneliness, and heartache become redundant after a while.
All that withstanding, there are some positive aspects to Growing Pains. Songs like “Come to Me (Peace)” and “Hurt Again” are two stellar tracks that really show Mary’s sensitive side and the funny thing is that it seems effortless on her part. But bright moments cannot make up for the overall mediocre tone that this album possesses. It seems that after the success of The Breakthrough she did not want to take any chances and made sure that she kept her fanbase intact. But sometimes you have to play the odds and with this bet Mary went with the safe money. – Ryan Harrison
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