Mary J. Blige

Growing Pains (Geffen)

With hip-hop increasingly a boys-only drug cartel, it's not surprising that the top urban hit makers are increasingly females in the R&B genre. Like Alicia Keys on her recent chart-topper As I Am, Mary J. Blige plays things safe on her own new blockbuster CD, Growing Pains. The album functions mainly as relationship therapy. "You know love is a process," she sings on "Talk to Me," "and it ain't gonna happen overnight. So be patient with my shortcomings." (A reference to her alleged steroids use, perhaps?) "Feel Like a Woman" is an anti-feminist ballad: "If you're on your way home, stop and buy me something. Boy, buy me a bag, or buy me some shoes," she begs. Why she would trust a heterosexual man's taste on these matters is a mystery, but no matter. On this largely tensionless work, one wishes Blige would bring the drama or at least a dramatic-sounding track on the order of "Be Without You" or "Family Affair." Sadly, the production is exceedingly conservative, with the exception of "Come to Me (Peace)," the album's electronic-accented closer. Produced by Tricky Stewart, it's the only song on the disc that feels epic the way a Mary J. track should.

 
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