Two years between albums is a relatively short period for Monica. Inspired, perhaps, by the comparative success of 2010’s Still Standing—a Billboard-charting, Grammy-nominated record preceded by a BET reality show of the same name—New Life comes with little hesitation or pause. But New Life is hardly new, emphasizing the fundamentals of classic R&B. Ballad-driven and bluesy, and playing on the usual themes of heartbreak and renewal, New Life isn’t about broadening horizons so much as it is about realizing a comfortable niche.
New Life is a backwards-looking effort detached from contemporary trends. While the lack of AutoTuned verses and dubstep bass drops are a welcome move away from gimmicky contemporary production, the album doesn’t offer much else in their place. Even catchy tunes, like the Missy Elliott-produced “Until It’s Gone,” only register for a moment before disappearing again into the recesses of the album. Lead single “It All Belongs To Me” might be New Life’s most pandering song, a duet with fellow R&B crooner Brandy that attempts to recapture some of the buzz from the pair’s 1998 hit “The Boy Is Mine.” Ironically, the song also serves up Monica’s most current reference, a cheesy lyrical play on the words “Macbook” and “Facebook.”
As a seventh studio album, and Monica’s first for RCA, New Life is a personal mile-marker. But it won’t be her defining record, and it’s far from being her best work. It engages her vocal strengths without ever really challenging them—for better or worse.