Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige knows her listeners turn to her for drama, and that's a problem. Her awareness of her misery-queen status bogs down her seventh album, The Breakthrough, which finds Blige just as invested in autobiography, except now she's happy. As an album of love songs dedicated to her husband, Kendu Isaacs, The Breakthrough is effective, proving that Blige loves as hard as she loses. There is a joyousness that leaps from the album's pummeling production and stomach-dropping melodic turns that is rare in today's R&B (certainly it was missing from her similarly themed 2003 set Love & Life). But when she backpedals, apologizing for her life's current lack of tragedy (as on "Good Woman Down" or the TMI-heavy "Father in You"), she undermines her own splendor. It is surprising that someone who has made a career out of recasting and reclaiming clichés by simply bellowing her lungs doesn't know that love means never having to say you're sorry.

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Rich Juzwiak