The London Sessions is the best album from the Queen of Hip-Hop soul in a decade, following 2005’s The Breakthrough. Mary J. Blige brings her gritty soul in flight to London and has made an impeccable and rousing old-school album.
The last two albums, Stronger With Each Tear and My Life II: The Journey Continues, disappointed commercially with both single choices and sales. Now on her twelfth studio album, The London Sessions is an experimental R&B album that generates a soul-fulfilling Tour De Force into modern blues for a new generation.
In the beginning, Mary sang “Therapy,” a clear standout for its musicality in its throwback production. It’s a sound heard more recently from the late incredible talent, Amy Winehouse. It has the transition midway, when the drums build to an Empire State of Mind-feeling “I don’t wanna be around me, and I done blame if you, if you are blocking all my calls.” “Therapy” is a tall tool as big as the largest building in the world, and it is certainly powerful as its own entity. It may very well be her best single since 2005’s monstrously-successful number one hit, “Be Without You.”
The next track, “Doubt,” continues the momentum and is headed into exceptional territory. It is a territorial record where Mary takes back her heart and “stops doubting herself.” Soon before the end, Mary’s strength is built with the words, “Now you looking at the leader, Now staring at the queen.” It’s winning formula for overcoming a bad lover that doubts all of your talents and aspirations. The piano-driven production propels the energy into a soul-booster.
The simple piano and bass on the ballad, “Not Loving You,” is effortless and testimonial. The lyrics pierce the mind as Mary blows out the vocals, “Marching in to save the day, and never works out.” In the end, Mary comes to the realization, “So what you gonna do now that you are falling down, there’s only so much I can do, if you’re not loving you.” Vocally, it is one of the best records of Mary J. Blige’s career.
As the guitar builds on “When You’re Gone,” it strikes right to the heart. Mary J. sings about what was and how things need to be now. “I am not alone until you leave me, I want get sleep tonight, cause you’re not here beside me.” The most touching song will cause tears to roll down the cheeks by the end; it is that good for the healing heart.
Mary turns things up a notch on “Right Now,” a club-ready anthem ready for the hand claps across the nation. The production by Disclosure is a merited addition to the vocals, leaving the record in the excellent classification. The queen is “telling you right now, no I won’t play this game with you, taking back now, turning it right around.” “Right Now” is placed strategically on the album and continues the theme of another exceptional track, but this time for the dance-floor.
The album’s biggest uptempo surprise comes in “My Loving,” another significant uptempo record that mixes 808 beats with a throwback 80s nostalgia. The mixture happens to work and fit the sounds of London Sessions harmoniously. Mary J. Blige has surrendered a record unlike any she has recorded before. Heads will be nodding in agreement to the beat and bodies will be dancing on the floor. It definitely has future-hit-single potential for the dance charts.
The mid-tempo and retro “Long Hard Look” is where things come to a climax. During this song, it becomes very clear that this album is a classic. Mary tells her baby, “Take a long hard look, grass is never greener on the other side, every resolution turns a page.” Another highlight so far, on a cohesively-constructed album.
Blige’s gritty vocals are alive and well on the “Whole Damn Year.” The production, all the way down to the vocals and lyrics, is magnificent. It took a “Whole damn year to repair my body, been a bad five years.” This track here is bad to the bone, with Mary showing her triumph through a tumultuous relationship so vividly.
The last two tracks, “Follow” and “Worth My Time,” are two very different records musically, but each provides a proper closing to what is sure to be a Grammy-winner next year. “Follow” is a mid-tempo jam warning this mysterious chameleon, “Don’t waste your time, play with my mind, or you’ll regret it, I write the rules, boy shame on you.” The production is stellar and amplifies the message, “give it all or give it nothing.”
London Sessions closes with the queen conquering every track with a poise and hunger that is mostly seen in new artists. A stronger and more victorious Mary J. Blige is the result in the end of her London Sessions. When in doubt, just trust the queen to rescue the void currently in classic R&B music. Her best work in 10 years happened in London. Each track is right where it should be, musically formulating an extraordinary exchange. It’s a change only a fit for a queen, and this is classic royalty in its finest fashion.