Album: Mary J Blige

Love & Life, Geffen
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The Independent Culture

Yet further evidence of the need for shorter CDs, another argument for favouring quality over quantity. For despite featuring, in its earlier stages, some of P Diddy's best backing tracks in quite some time, by the close of Love & Life's gruelling 78 minutes, any goodwill thus accrued has been firmly dispelled by a succession of flaccid, mind-numbingly banal songs. Worse still, Mary J Blige's delivery deteriorates accordingly until, by "Special Part of Me" (the 17th of 20 tracks), this most distinctive of modern soul divas is reduced to a series of half-hearted squeaks and squawks that all but scream "Will this do?". Things start out okay, with a decent title-track on which Jay-Z manages to big himself up with his usual thoroughness while (almost incidentally) introducing Mary's new album. Subsequent guest slots from 50 Cent (ruthlessly mediocre), Method Man (sadly reduced to referring to himself as "the other M and M") and Eve (typically annoyed) offer little variety on a few generic hip-hop clichés, although the stalking pizzicato strings and Dr Dre's trademark G-Funk synth whine make the latter track ("Not Today") one of the more enjoyable. But there's a wearying inevitability about the attitudes and opinions wheeled out in song after song, which find Mary J either grovellingly devotional or bitterly reproachful.

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