Originally published on So So Gay on 26 November 2014.
It’s been a few years since Mary J. Blige released a proper album (ignoring last year’s festive frolics in the shape of A Mary Christmas). For her latest studio album, the Bronx-native has called upon the services of some of the UK’s hottest new artists, and it’s an impressive collection of material.
It opens strongly with the Sam Smith co-write and lead single, the doo-wop flavoured ‘Therapy’, and the momentum continues with the empowerment anthem ‘Doubt’. She may be known more for her passionate performances, but the slow and steady emotion of ‘Not Loving You’ that follows, shows Mary J. on restrained but spine-tingling form and is the album’s best balladeering moment.
The first of two Disclosure-produced tracks, ‘Right Now’ changes the album’s direction markedly, yet somehow fits in seamlessly, and has their musical stamp all over it. You could be forgiven for thinking the sonically-adjacent ‘My Loving’ was also their handiwork, when in fact it’s renowned R&B producer Darkchild, whose influence is rather elusive on this particular House-infused track. There are a couple of introspective and serious moments for Mary to showcase those emotional colours to her voice (‘When You’re Gone’, ‘Whole Damn Year’), but she really excels on the more upbeat moments, such as the joyfully infectious 1-2 punch of ‘Pick Me Up’ and ‘Follow’ (the second Disclosure track).
As most recently highlighted by the aforementioned Garage-duo, Mary’s persona and voice entwine perfectly with more dance-flavoured tracks, and these are arguably the album’s best moments. However, it must be said that The London Sessions is an exceptionally well-crafted package – even if it ends on the slightly overwrought and indulgent note of ‘Worth My Time’.
While tapping into the talents of a host of bright young things whom she surrounded herself with for this effort, Mary’s rich presence is still strongly felt throughout, mainly thanks to her distinctively earnest delivery. Appropriately enough for a veteran of her standing, Mary J. Blige’s expert performance on this album sounds effortless and it’s an eleventh-hour contender for Album of the Year.
There are definite standout moments that would make for ideal singles, but taken as a whole is when The London Sessions shines. It marks an impressive return by one of music’s most respected talents and shows Mary J. can still hold her own against – not to mention with – today’s rising stars.
Standout Tracks: ‘Therapy’ / ‘Not Loving You’ / ‘Right Now’ / ‘Nobody But You’ / ‘Pick Me Up’