Recorded amid the singer’s battles with addiction and depression and under the cloud of a rocky relationship, Mary J. Blige’s 1994 sophomore record, My Life, was rawer and more confessional than any other R&B album of its era, a sorrowful, ballad-heavy work fraught with unanswered pleas for happiness. The singer has long since put that turbulent chapter of her life behind her. Blige famously vowed No More Drama on her 2001 album (which followed a pair of records that had already toned down the drama considerably), and she’s stayed true to the promise, framing herself as a model of stability and contentment on her subsequent albums.
Despite its loaded title, My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1) doesn’t return to the dire emotional stakes of the first My Life, nor does it much feel like a sequel. The record makes time for some of the old-school soul that the 1994 original is best remembered for (most gloriously on the exuberant single “25/8”), but no more so than any other recent Blige album. It’s less electronic than 2009’s pop-leaning Stronger With Each Tear, but it’s still plenty up-tempo, ceding itself to the dance floor with the Busta Rhymes feature “Next Level” and a somewhat out of place Euro-house cover of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.” Although he signs off on the project on a spoken intro track, My Life producer Sean Combs is otherwise absent, replaced behind the boards by the usual tag team of high-end producers.
What My Life II lacks in a single vision, though, it makes up for with consistently rousing performances from Blige, whose radiant voice has only grown fuller and bluesier with time. My Life II doesn’t quite rank among Blige’s greatest works (its closing ballads are a little toothless), but it nonetheless marks a rare achievement: Blige is now 10 albums into her career, and she has yet to make a bad one.