Mary J. Blige: Growing Pains

Mary J. Blige has built a career on channeling her inner demons to create some of contemporary soul's finest music, while amassing a huge fan base that sound tracks their own lives to "Be Without You" and "No More Drama." But, as she points out on "Hurt Again," from her eighth studio album, Growing Pains, she's been there, done that and no longer wants to wallow in her own self-pity. So what does this new Mary want, then? Energetic first single "Just Fine" testifies that she wants to stop moping around and celebrate her transformation from angry and insecure B-girl to confident grown woman. She's in love and dedicated to making it last. Old habits die hard, though, and not every Mary fan is on the happy train, so songs like "Roses" and "Work in Progress (Growing Pains)" acknowledge our Queen of Hip-Hop Soul's (or anyone else's) fight toward bliss is an ongoing struggle. Blige may be on a different journey now, but she's still taking listeners along for the ride.

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Michael Arceneaux