Monica has never been a top-tier R&B diva. Her sixth album, Still Standing, seems to hint at an unflinching resolve in the face of irrelevance but ends up succumbing to the vanilla, paint-by-numbers soul we’ve come to expect from her. The opening title track is the best of the bunch: Starting with an icy club-busting backbeat and a gothic, low-octave choir, it’s a usual heart-strong self-helper. Monica sings time-tested clichés like “everything I’m going through,” but the song keeps a pretty steady peak going throughout its four minutes, and even the brief Ludacris verse is anthemic: “I’m still standing like the Statue of Liberty/And I put my name in the history books so you’ll forever remember me.”
Unfortunately, the rest of Still Standing is immediately forgettable, inhabiting the colorless world that has doomed the majority of mainstream R&B over the last decade. Countless half-baked ballads (“Superman,” “Stay or Go”) and brainless dance numbers (“If You Were My Man”) easily outweigh the record’s more inspired qualities. It’s pop at its most unembellished and bland, which is especially disappointing for an album that enlists big-league producers like Jermaine Dupri and Missy Elliott. Monica’s syrupy voice is still undeniably strong, and Still Standing is unquestionably heartfelt, but it’s almost impossible to recommend, particularly when an artist like Erykah Badu is putting out a new record at almost exactly the same time.