What makes Stronger with Each Tear a slightly distinct variation on the same album Mary J. Blige has been re-recording since 2001’s No More Drama is a glut of guest appearances by rappers and producers including T.I., Rodney Jerkins, and Drake. The focus on her predominantly very young collaborators pulls focus from Blige, who has never been one for sharing the spotlight, but it also serves to liven up some of the most pedestrian material the singer has recorded in years. Auto-Tuned lead single “The One,” featuring Drake, has already proven divisive among Blige’s die-hard contingency, but it’s ultimately no worse than any of Blige’s trademark “swagger” songs ever have been, and it’s one of the better tracks here. “Hood Love,” featuring Trey Songz, is a frankly desperate attempt at maintaining street cred that Blige has already proven many times over and which, as a strident bit of youthful posturing, comes across as badly dated. The protracted metaphor of “Kitchen” uses some embarrassing rhymes and awkward images that can’t be masked by a strong melody and a terrific gospel piano backing. Blige, as always, does her damnedest to sell every clichéd platitude and mixed metaphor, but she’s only intermittently successful in that regard. “Each Tear” is one of her less insufferable sermons, but there’s just no meat to “I Love U” and “I Feel Good” to justify her bluster. Even more unfortunate is that the album-closing “I Can See in Color” is a powerful song given a stripped-down, retro-soul production from Raphael Saadiq, but Blige’s frequent problems with pitch control mar what should have been the album’s finest moment. Instead, the song is just indicative of the larger problem with Stronger: None of the elements that actually work ever manage to do so at the same time.
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