Mary J. Blige's 'Stronger With Each Tear' is a gem

REVIEW - Mary J Blige's latest album is a gem, well-suited for those who are deeply content or have down-on-yourself blues...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Mary J. Blige’s last four releases have come to us in December, taking advantage of the holiday shopping season while serving as a musical gift for the masses. After all, the rhythm and blues queen has never made a poor album. We’ve watched Blige go from singing about the search for happiness and a quality love to singing about the euphoria of being happy and the ups and downs of long-term relationships.

“Stronger With Each Tear,” a tight, propulsive collection of original material, serves as a bridge between two eras. The album is hook laden, contemporary and forward-thinking (and mindful of our digital song landscape as every track can stand alone as a single) while retaining traditional soul and hip-hop sensibilities via Blige’s voice and production. It’s arguably one of the few R&B releases of recent memory that’s truly multi-generational in scope.

Blige makes it clear she has no intentions of giving up her presence in the clubs. “Tonight” starts of the album with a submerged, electronic pulse that’s modern yet retro. Then the Darkchild “The One” kicks the ride higher, exchanging a variety of space-age side effects underneath call and response vocals, some of which are deliciously auto-tuned. The booty shaking continues with “Said and Done”: the jaunty jam relies on both piano flourishes and gorgeous cyber-morphing sound effects. Here our singer acknowledges she’s “a mess,” but knows that she’s gonna continue loving her man anyway, and vice versa.

The romantic meditations continue on the upbeat “Good Love” (featuring a fun, nicely-versed rap bridge by T.I.. that pays tribute to black women), the sinuous “I Love U (Yes I Du),” and “Hood Love,” a mid-tempo ditty with a very explicit melody that says love can thrive even amongst cussing, screaming and other household dramas.

The relationship track sure to make you chuckle however is “Kitchen,” a Prince-influenced romp that uses humorous cooking and food metaphors to advise women to keep female vixens away from their men, who are seen more as investments of time and energy than romantic paragons. And the grand old-school soul-stomper “In the Morning,” composed solely by Blige, has a chorus with themes reminiscent of Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay” and Dreamgirl’s slow version of “One Night Only.”

The songs of self-affirmation shine here too, with the poppy “Each Tear” looking at life’s journeys with a smile. And the Raphael Saadiq-produced “I Can See in Color” is a sparse, sanctified blues/gospel joint with Blige testifying about self-love and joy with tremors and moans, embodying ethereal ebbs and flows of a people with her voice. “Color” is an under-the-skin, body and heart experience meant for immersion in darkness and candlelight.

The album is a gem — well suited for those who are deeply content or have down-on-yourself blues or fall somewhere in between as we enter a new era. For the new day put on “I Feel Good,” an elegant mid-tempo ooooh-ooooh-ing ode to stepping out, hanging with friends, and being gorgeous inside and out. Happy 2010 ya’ll.