Real & Bold
Last year Mary J. Blige recorded and released the best R&B tune that no one heard.
A sparkling, wondrous composition, "Beautiful Ones" is a love song that's so sincerely romantic it makes other tunes look selfish and superficial by comparison. Chances are, in ten years people won't be looking back on tunes like "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "No Scrubs" as fondly as they do on, say, Marvin Gaye numbers. The former are quick, blunt jolts of in-the-moment R&B, the musical equivalents of Coyote Ugly movies. Blige's song is something else altogether, but since it lacks the instrumental and lyrical aggression you usually find on today's heavy-rotation black radio, it hasn't been released as a single. Not only is that a damn shame, it's a dazzling display of idiocy by label execs who repeatedly let good things slip through their money-grubbing mitts.
"Beautiful Ones" is the exquisite centerpiece of the 1999 release Mary. It's not the only good thing there, either. Many other songs approach the powerful level established by "Beautiful Ones." Mary is Blige's most passionate album to date, full of insightful lyricism and heavy-on-the-heart soul. Devoid of the vainglory of her previous albums, Mary is a 14-song confessional. Her first single, "Deep Inside," plays like an open apology, set to the piano track from Elton John's "Bennie & The Jets" (performed by guess who?). The tune is a remembrance of all her years of divadom, fueled by drugs, heartbreak and overall bitchiness.
It's rare for a soul supernova like Blige to use an album to repent her sins. But luckily Blige knows how to entrance listeners with her graceful brand of R&B, instead of alienating them.
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