Now firmly back in the public consciousness after a stellar Super Bowl Halftime Show performance, legendary R&B vocalist Mary J. Blige smartly saw fit to capitalize on her momentum and drop her 14th studio album just a couple days before she was set to take the stage. Partially written in response to a divorce, Blige doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it lyrically – instead, she stocks the tracklist with a number of genuinely uplifting self-love anthems, which become all the more impressive when you consider the aging superstar breaking the unfortunate conventional norms in the music industry and still doing big numbers this late into her career. Stacked with guest appearances, it makes for a bit of a scattershot affair from a musical standpoint, but Blige’s vocal power shines as bright as ever.
Despite the litany of features making things a little hit-or-miss over the album’s runtime, Good Morning Gorgeous actually opens with two of its messiest tracks, both Blige solos, and a feature that’s essentially a cheat code in Anderson .Paak. .Paak’s rhythmic grooves continue to be second to none on the track “Here With Me,” as Blige mirrors the smooth and charismatic half-sung flow he drops into the track with. .Paak’s “I write the lyrics, she make the captions” is an incredible flex, and Blige proves she’s just as impressive on a more hip-hop influenced track than she is letting her full range out. In fact, sometimes it can paradoxically be to her detriment – the first two tracks remind me of another R&B legend in Brandy’s most recent album, in that there are so many impressive vocal moments cluttered in and falling on top of each other that the track becomes far too busy and borderline unlistenable. Still, the opening tracks do contain some key lyrics and important narrative moments, as Blige instructs listeners to stay humble in their pursuits on “No Idea” and begins the album in a more dejected place regarding her divorce on “Love Will Never,” wondering if she’ll ever recapture a romantic spark again – something that she overcomes as the album progresses, first by loving herself and then loving others as well.
The track “Rent Money” comes before a much-needed shift in the album’s energy, feeling like the last of the more awkward musical choices that come near the beginning. The instrumental is full of jazzy bass notes and elegant piano, making it feel like the time for her biggest vocal moments to come out, but she remains in the staccato hip-hop flow and makes the song feel strangely empty, not fitting in as well in that space as she laments giving everything that she had to a relationship that ended poorly. Rapper Dave East appears with a decent verse, sounding a lot like Tyler, the Creator. Speaking of Tyler, say what you will about his sworn nemesis DJ Khaled, but he certainly knows how to liven up a party. The track “Energy” signals a shift to Blige’s self-love anthems, loudly proclaiming her greatness over a typically Khaled-style in-your-face and over-the-top series of pounding synth-piano chords, airhorns, tubas and spastic percussion as she toasts to positive vibes. The whole thing gives off decidedly Beyonce energy. This transitions into the title track, which offers similar sentiments but in a much more warm and wholesome way, Blige repeating the album title as a real-life mantra she said to herself each morning to lift her spirits. With orchestral influences and a waltz tempo, she hits some of her best vocal moments here and delivers a truly inspiring message.
Of course, now that all of the lingering trauma had been dealt with, you might see where this is going – the track “Come See About Me” expresses the next step in one of the album’s highlights, Blige sending out flirtatious messages over a striking piano riff as she prepares to re-enter the dating pool. Sounding confident and driven, you can envision the wink in her tone as a bit of rasp creeps in while issuing an abundance of direct come-ons – she even offers to cook for him! From there, a couple more misplaced tracks begin cropping up again – “On Top” comes with the incredible concept of linking hip-hop’s past and future, as both legendary production duo Cool & Dre and drill upstart Fivio Foreign are credited, but Blige truly does not match with a drill beat – she almost sounds too nice for it, and it feels like an obligatory trend-hopping move. “Love Without the Heartbreak” is another strange one in that it’s one of the most fun lyrical exercises on the project, with some well-written verses about the specific things she’d take and leave when it comes to the natural course of a relationship, but the rest of the track doesn’t have much of a memorable tune and feels almost like a freestyle – especially with the extended, jam-session style bridge.
The album closes out with a string of tracks that most closely resemble the musical landscape where Blige got her start, most of which represent pretty standard fare that either comes across as awkwardly dated or a pleasure to hear Blige bringing this specific energy back depending on the strength of the tune that accompanies it. The soaring chorus of “Enough” is great to hear, but “Failing In Love” is the strongest one on the back end with a fantastic bassline from London on da Track of all people – Blige delivers an exasperated, cathartic vocal performance as she feels temptation for the old relationship one final time when things don’t work out as planned. The closer is far from the strongest track here, but hearing her duet with Usher – another face fresh from another time – is a nice touch to send it off.
After joining the legends on the Super Bowl stage and delivering a solid product on the most listened-to album of the week, how incredible would it be if this gave the 51-year-old Blige a late-career second wind? Regardless, still being able to come through with as many quality tracks as she does here means we should be celebrating her as an icon.
Favourite Tracks: Good Morning Gorgeous, Amazing, Come See About Me, Here With Me, Failing In Love
Least Favourite Track: No Idea