Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mary J. Blige: Growing Pains [Geffen, 2007]
Back in the day, the Aretha comparisons were ignorant--Mary's early albums weren't all they were cracked up to be, and neither was her voice. But a decade and a half later, she deserves respect. Like Aretha, her hip-hop soul has long since transmuted into a working relationship with actually existing black pop, which right now just means pop. On 2005's breakthrough The Breakthrough, that was interpreted to mean soft. This time, happily, Busta Rhymes and Ludacris get her back to where she once belonged for the duration of their openers. After that, it's an expensive, honorable, credible sampler of the hottest current R&B brands, with multiple nods to Ne-Yo and "Umbrella." Even the homiletic "Stay Down" will grow on you, though not for as long as Geffen hopes. The comparison this all doesn't quite live up to: Aretha's multiproduced, hip-hop-friendly A Rose Is Still a Rose, now disgracefully out of print (though you can buy it cheap used). Ten years from now, this best-seller won't have suffered that fate--if "in print" means anything at all in 2018. A-