Much OBliged

It's a rare and beautiful thing when the words of an artist expressed through song so accurately reflect the feelings of the common listener. In a music industry that is all too often unoriginal and uninspired, thank God for R&B, a safe haven for those who still tell it like it is. Fortunately, there will always be the precious few who preach on about the uncertainties of growing up poor, the difficulties of losing a love and the undeniable pain of menstrual cramps and bloating....

Confused? Enter Mary J. Blige.

Doling out another dose of her spiritual stylings on No More Drama, Mary J. returns with a decidedly new approach to the conventional Blige blight. Gone are the days of old school "woe is me," making way for a surprisingly up-beat, happy and hopeful diva. The apparent change of heart, however, has left her a little light on subject matter.

Which brings us back to "PMS," Blige's horrendously terrible soul jam devoted entirely to her unforgiving feminine cycle--the only thing that seems to be bothering her these days. The track is so laughable that you have to wonder how serious she is. Blige wails, "I'm down and out in depression/ I think the worst of everything/ My lower back is aching/ And my clothes don't fit/ Now ain't that a bitch?" Yes--yes it is.

The embarrassing efforts continue with "Forever No More," a spoken-word poem describing her newfound gaiety. With its forced rhymes and erratic rhythm, this contrived ode to joy sounds more grade-school-ishly trite than anything else, so much so that no one would be surprised if any given line began with "Beans, beans, good for the heart...."

There may be strength in numbers, as the brighter spots on this album all seem to stem from guest appearances. Lenny Kravitz, Eve, Missy Elliott and Dr. Dre all lend support, helping this sinking ship stay afloat. The Dre-produced lead single, "Family Affair" is a stand-out, as is the title track, "No More Drama," a willful denouncement of pain and suffering that incorporates a piano sample of The Young and the Restless theme song. With a little help from her friends, Blige shows that she can still be heartfelt, emotive and inspirational.

Though her latest CD is mediocre at best, Mary J. Blige's newfound mirth may be just the thing to get her through these rough times. One thing is certain: If she ever decides to bring back the drama, it will greatly improve her music.


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