"I'm talkin' 'bout things I know," Mary J. Blige wails on "Work That," the second single and opening track of Growing Pains
. The album squeaked into 2007 too late to make best-of lists but otherwise would have stormed its way up several, for sure. She needn't have hit us with such a pronouncement: In 16 songs that ring as remarkably, unflinchingly true as those on 2005's landmark The Breakthrough
, the queen of hip-hop soul keeps "keeping it real" a specialty. There's no sense in trying to assign credit for the skin-tight grooves and funked-up retro vibe here; with nine producers padding Blige's emotion-rich voice and the lyrics she so obviously lives by, what we're left with is a melange of sounds. But it's a measure of an artist who has mastered her own identity and left nothing to chance that this, her eighth studio album, comes off so free of wild cards and loose edges. "You ask what love feels like," she sings on "What Love Is," one of the disc's less fierce tracks. "It feels like joy, and it feels like pain, and it feels like sunshine, and it feels like rain," she continues, answering the question. The album feels the same way, a passel of complex feelings all wrapped up in love. No one knows struggle, heartache, and triumph over mediocrity like Blige. --Tammy La Gorce
UK pressing of the R&B divas 2007 album features three bonus tracks: If You Love Me (Edit), Hello Its Me and Mirror. Growing Pains is Mary J. Bliges eighth studio album. After a tumultuous period in the 90s which saw the R&B and Soul diva battle demons both privately and professionally, this album documents her final steps to personal happiness as uplifting single Just Fine demonstrates. As a positive record, it highlights the emotional depth in Blige who sounds more confident and mature than ever before. It also includes a guest appearance from rapper Ludacris. 19 tracks. Polydor. 2008.