April , 2012
Review by Ken Martin
There are certain artists that come and go, leaving behind trails of one-hit anthems and faded legacies, as well those once infamous artists that eventually land their names in the 'Whatever Happened To...' articles. Then you have the artists that are so hinged to their fan base and their expanding career, that no matter the circumstances, they never falter as they continue to create an ever lasting, and more eminent reputation for themselves. In the land of R&B, the latter mentioned artists are typically less common than the former, with a few exceptions - Monica being one of them.
Monica has now released her seventh studio album, placing her on a similar path as musical greats Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey. The quality of her music has never received much negative criticism - yawns maybe - as most evaluations of her talent have generally come to the same consensus. She is a phenomenal singer that always leaves the listener impressed with her vocal talents. These positive regards for Monica seem to provide an overflow of motivation and encouragement for her career ambitions, as she continues to crank out albums. Each one seemingly flaunts a new, but equally impassioned disposition of her self.
New Life is the latest production in Monica's small fleet of albums. It was supposed to be released last fall, but the folding of her label into parent RCA caused a six-month delay. Interest in the project had already gained some traction with the prior release of the promo single, "Anything (To Find You)", a duet with rapper Rick Ross, last year. (Interestingly enough, this track has been omitted from the album). With the full backing of her new corporate parent, Monica's first duet with Brandy in 14 years, "It All Belongs to Me," preceded the release of New Life. The move worked. The single vaulted up the R&B charts and created the type of buzz the singer and her label had hoped for.
So what does the 31-year old singer's album bring to the table? Perhaps we should start off with what it doesn't bring, which would be a collection of sub-par songs. Monica confirmed with this 12-song collection that it is indeed possible to deliver material that is still connected to the artist's core roots without selling out to the mainstream ambience. There is not one single track on this recording that lacks passion. "Daddy's Good Girl", a song teaming with a soulful flow, is reminiscent of the teenage Monica that wowed us with her stunning debut, Miss Thang. If that song isn't pleasing enough, then I'm sure you will find satisfaction on the next, "Man Who Has Everything". It's a beautifully delivered tune that lectures men, who lack love, yet still believe their lives are fulfilled because of the tangible possessory items they surround themselves with.
The album continues to pick up pace with the impressively delivered "Big Mistake." The song conveys the consequences of regret in a tone so subtle and relaxing you can't help but hit the repeat button after the first listen. Its impressionable melody proves that even the sound of heartbreak can sound beautiful. Rapper Wale makes a guest appearance in "Take a Chance." His presence compliments the fairly upbeat melody, but even Wale's lyrical skills couldn't distract you from focusing on Monica's radiant voice.
If for any reason you have failed to recognize, and realize, your need to appreciate that special someone in your life, listen to "Without You." This song is a realization that true love should always be cherished. "Until It's Gone" and "Amazing" collectively reaffirm the positive messages that resound throughout this gem of a recording. The heartfelt emotion in which the mother of two communicates her feelings leaves the listener in an ardent hypnotic state of mind. There's little doubt that Monica's recent marriage to NBA star Shannon Brown had a subtle influence on this album.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Monica's New Life is embodied in the song entitled "Cry." This tune is sure to tug at the seat of your emotions until you, well … actually want to cry. Throughout this album, that spirit of emotion seems to have that subtle effect on the listener. It's as if this Georgia native has mastered the art of capturing the heart and mind of her audience despite her relatively young age. This record is artsy, unique and familiar all at the same time. I don't care if so called critics pan this album. As far as I'm concerned, this is without a doubt, one of the top R&B albums released in the last ten years.
With the recent death of Whitney Houston, all noted female R&B singers will most certainly undergo a closer examination by not only their peers, but critics as well, when it comes to future recording projects. Their personal lives, as well as their high notes, pitches and vibratos will undergo ridiculous levels of scrutiny to see if there are any cracks in the armor. From where I'm standing, or I should say sitting, Monica is up for the challenge. The 'new life' she's now leading is proof positive of that.