Mary J. Blige’s greatly accomplished fourth album.
Daryl Easlea 2012
Mary is the widescreen fourth studio album from Mary J. Blige, which finds her edging further toward an adult-oriented market. Even its cover, a stark black and white image of her with African jewellery, underlines that Blige is leaving the street and going somewhere deeper, more substantial.
Overseen by Blige and Kirk Burrowes, the selection of producers and grooves unite here in a rare way. It is a post-modern composite, and it is, of course, unafraid to parade its bling.
Opening with the Lauryn Hill-produced All That I Can Say, Mary at once demonstrates that Blige, who had then been a star for best part of a decade, could still keep and rise above the company of the hottest current artists.
Sexy takes Michael Jackson’s I Can’t Help It and fashions a woozy, off-kilter vibe. Deep Inside features a re-recording of Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets, with John slamming away at his piano like he’s having the time of his life. It is absolutely infectious, and one of the standouts of Blige’s career.
Rich Harrison - who would go on to produce Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love - is responsible here for Beautiful Ones, which takes a sample of guitarist Earl Klugh’s version of Bacharach and David’s April Fools and supports an incredibly passionate delivery from Blige. Don’t Waste Your Time, a duet with Aretha Franklin, is a beautiful meeting of minds.
One of Aretha’s old duet partners, George Michael, turns up on the spirited cover of Stevie Wonder’s As, which appeared on European editions of the album. It is tribute running riot, with Michael attempting to dazzle in Blige’s company. However, the moment she opens her mouth, he is vanquished. The song gave Blige her then-highest UK chart placing (4), and paved the way for the album to break into the UK top 5.
A huge star for two decades, Mary J. Blige may not have had the ostentatious career climaxes of other artists, but she's created a steady, consistent and often astonishing catalogue. Mary is one of the most thrilling instalments of this career.