Sooner or later, someone's going to get around to making Mary J. Blige: The Movie. For years, it looked like that film would come from 40 Acres and a Mule -- or some other likeminded outfit -- any minute, but in recent years, as Blige has gone from the angry young woman of hip-hop soul to public television pitchwoman, it's becoming clear that this story is made for Disney. She's gone from being an around-the-way girl with a chip on her shoulder to being the sunny, soulful singer whose songs often traffic in self-help lingo. How could the mouse refuse that?
Blige's latest recording, No More Drama, continues a trend begun on 1997's Share My World, on which she articulated her pain and overcame it, all on one release. Blige's battered and bruised heart always seems to persevere (remember, she's "Not Gonna Cry"), and it was that grit and determination that made her unofficial title, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, much more than a convenient tag line. Her deep voice embodied both the pain of heartbreak and the dismay in restratified, post-civil-rights-era black America. Everybody could relate to the pain, and the hip-hop world in particular empathized with the dismay. But what began as dismay has become a celebration of the nouveau riche, and though Blige has been as bad a fashion victim as anyone, at least heartbreak songs remained a cornerstone of her art.
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Until now, that is. While No More Drama contains several fine songs (most notably the title track, the Dr. Dre-produced first single and Missy Elliott's "Never Been"), it's a very good 42-minute album embedded in a mediocre 72-minute CD. The recording is badly weighed down by tracks like "Beautiful Day" and "Flying Away," which border on Sesame Street fodder. We're not arguing that happiness always diminishes an artist's work -- but in this case, it's lessened the urgency in Blige's music considerably. And that, unfortunately, has robbed it of vitality.