While Mary J. Blige’s new album is called The Breakthrough, the album is not so much a breakthrough as it is a rejuvenation. Coming more than two years after Love & Life, her ill-fated reunion with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, The Breakthrough shows that the Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul is happy and in control of her life and her music.
The first thing you notice across the album is that it is all about Mary, plain and simple. Even though many well-known producers worked on this album (Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Cool and Dre, Will.I.Am, Raphael Saadiq), their work showcases Mary instead of overpowering her. Across the 16 tracks (17 if you count the hidden bonus track), Mary sounds better than she has in years.
There are a number of very good songs to be found on The Breakthrough. “Baggage” has Mary apologizing for all the emotional baggage she brings to a relationship. “Ain’t Really Love” follows in the tradition of Mary’s classic “Not Gon’ Cry” as it details a troubled relationship. “About You” is an unusual song that samples the voice of the legendary Nina Simone. Mary and the great Nina sing “together” on this Will.I.Am-produced track. “I Found My Everything,” a gospel-tinged collaboration with Raphael Saadiq, is one of the best songs on the album with lush instrumentation and an old-school (but sample-free) sound.
However, Mary never sounds more honest and real on this album than she does on the stellar “Father In You.” She addresses the complex feelings surrounding the two most influential men in her life … her husband and her absent father. In talking about her fatherless childhood, she also stresses how important the strength and support of her man is for her. This song is both uplifting and heartbreaking and fortunately, Mary doesn’t overdo it.
Although most of The Breakthrough is pretty good, there are some filler songs here and there. “MJB Da MVP” is essentially a mixtape remix of The Game and 50 Cent’s “Hate It Or Love It” that has Mary reminiscing about her lengthy career. It’s actually not that bad but it sounds a little out of place on the album. It really should’ve been a bonus track. “Can’t Hide From Luv” is another song that isn’t that bad but it features what is probably the most useless Jay-Z appearance I’ve ever heard. You hear his voice here and there but he doesn’t even contribute so much as a verse to the proceedings.
The Breakthrough is one of Mary J. Blige’s better albums. She shines throughout this album whether she’s singing about how she can’t live without her man on “Be Without You” or covering “One” by U2. Since Mary’s emotion always comes through in her music, it’s easy to tell that she’s refreshed, happy, and in control. She doesn’t blindly follow what everyone else does nor does she rely on overproduction to bail her out. This album shows that even though she’s been around for more than 10 years, she’s far from fading into the woodwork.