Monica - New Life

Posted April 11, 2012
Tags: Monica,

As much as I hate to hint at out how depressingly old I am, I grew up with Monica. Or to be...

New Life Album Review

As much as I hate to hint at out how depressingly old I am, I grew up with Monica. Or to be more accurate, with Monica’s music. Her first album Miss Thang, released when she was just 13 - I was just 11 and still wearing sweatpants - was a staple of middle school dances and carpool radio jams on the way to basketball games. As with anyone you’ve known for that long, I honestly started to take Monica for granted. Sure, I always thought she had a great voice and, despite some obvious hard times, was pretty successful, but are you aware just how elite Monica is? Are you really though? Because frankly I forgot until I started doing some research for her new album, New Life.

I mean, we’re talking the youngest person to ever have two consecutive number one R&B hits. We’re talking one of the longest running number-one songs in US chart history for The Boy is Mine, a Grammy, 20 million albums sold worldwide and the only person to ever top the Billboard R&B charts in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s (if Wikipedia can be trusted). So yeah, Monica’s career is kind of like a big deal.

So it really shouldn’t be surprising that Monica’s ninth studio album, New Life, is so good, although I’m sure some doubters, or those who have similarly begun to take her for granted, will be caught off guard. While there’s nothing revolutionary here, New Life is undoubtedly the work of a woman who’s supremely comfortable in her own skin and own music. As simply put as possible, when you can sing as well as Monica can, and you have some top notch production, and you concentrate on making good music instead of chasing a fad or a hit, you end up with a damn good album. Imagine that.

We might as well start with the album’s most obviously attention getting selection, It All Belongs to Me (aka The Boy is Mine Pt. 2). Bring Monica and Brandy back together again more than a decade after their uber-smash was sure to get people talking, but most importantly the track has absolutely no traces of gimmick. This was a record conceived by the artists, not marketing execs at the label, and while it doesn’t have that same hit potential, it’s hard to complain about that much history and talent on one song. (Oh, and “That Mac Book, that sh*t belong to me,” goes down as one of the best lines in music history.) My Life’s other big guest feature comes courtesy of Wale, who gives the otherwise solid but fairly generic Take a Chance some serious urban radio potential. So yes, even considering the more synth-y Amazing and the more uptempo and catchy Man Who Has Everything, there may not be another number one on New Life, but that should only be an issue for people who choose their music based on statistics.

What I like the best about New Life is how natural it feels. Many veteran artists would feel the pressure to chase fads, to appeal to the “younger” demographic, after as many years in the game as Monica, but instead she goes the other way, laying down more timelessly oriented R&B throughout the album. In fact, Time to Move On might as well have been recorded in a smoky blues club. Filled with live instrumentation, Move On is the most powerful reminder that Monica’s voice can pack a serious soul punch we’ve heard in a while. Similarly, Until Its Gone hits every mark in the R&B ballad checklist, combining pounding production with some serious “Boy, you made a huge mistake leaving me” attitude. Speaking of which, I’d also have to throw Big Mistake, a cut that’s undeniably the work of a woman who’s been through more than her fair share of struggle, into this category. It’s hard to argue with good music.

It’d be a mistake to call New Life a comeback album for Monica. While she hasn’t always been front and center under the spotlight, taken as a whole she’s had a remarkably consistent and successful career. Instead, it’d be better to think of New Life as a announcement album, a declaration. Any hint of the girl who once explained why we shouldn’t take it personal is gone. Monica’s musically and personally a grown woman in every sense of the word, and she’s not going anywhere until she decides to.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted April 11, 2012
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