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Mary J. Blige

Breakthrough

Release Date: 12/20/2005
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Price: $10.99

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At the end of 2005, Mary J. Blige's career was supposed to be anthologized. The singer had her way, however, and one of her best studio albums came out instead. In retrospect, her previous album, 2003's Love Life, was awkward; the P. Diddy collaborations, likely intended to recapture the magic the duo put together on What's the 411? and My Life, didn't always pay off, and Blige was about to become a wife, so the songs steeped in heartbreak and disappointment weren't delivered with as much power as they had been in the past. The Breakthrough also contains some of the drama that fans expect, despite Blige's continued happiness, but it's clear that she has gained enough distance from the uglier parts of her past that she can inhabit them and, once again, deliver those songs. The past does play a significant role in the album, as in "Baggage," where she apologies to her husband for bringing it into their relationship. "Father in You" sounds like a note-perfect facsimile of a classic soul allad, rising and falling and twisting with a sensitive string arrangement, but the lyrics are pure Blige, acknowledging the ways in which her husband has made up for the absence of her father. On the nearly anthemic "Good Woman Down," she sees a less matured version of herself in young women and uses her experiences to advise. She jacks the beat from the Game's "Hate It or Love It" for "MJB da MVP," where she reflects on her career, thanks her supporters, and reasserts her rightful position as the soul hip-hop queen. It's one of several tracks to beam with a kind of contentment and confidence that Blige has never before possessed. Take "Can't Hide from Love," where she's such a force that Jay-Z dishes out a quick introduction and knows to stay out of the way for the remainder of the track, or the glorious "I Found My Everything," her "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Beat for beat, the album features the best round of productions Blige has been handed since the mid-'90s. Apart from only a couple lukewarm tracks and a poorly recorded version of "One" with U2, it is completely correct. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

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