A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this music.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mary's message careens from girlfriend solidarity to racial pride to giving up way too much for love. There's some God stuff in there, too. In a way, the songs cancel each other out. Younger listeners might have a question or two.
What's the story?
Mary J. Blige does herself--and her girlfriends -- proud on this stunning CD. The dramatic beginning -- a moody synthesized instrumental leading into the artist's answering machine greeting--might be over the top, as are the rapped accolades by P. Diddy and Jay-Z. But once Mary herself enters the scene, the production and arrangements are interesting, tasteful, and beautifully executed. Especially notable on LOVE & LIFE is the texture of the background vocals, and the way they complement and enhance Blige's well-delivered leads.
Is it any good?
The songs are interesting throughout the CD, though occasionally cringe-worthy. The socially conscious "Finally Made It (Interlude)" delivers a strong "If I could do it, so can you" message. Then "Ooh!" follows, with "I do what you want if you don't hurt me--I'll cook and clean, I'll make you happy." We could all live without more of this particular message in music. But overall, Mary J. Blige covers a range of emotions about life, love, pride, and prejudice with style and beauty -- and with great backup vocals to match.