Monica brings back glory days of R&B with New Life

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R&B songstress Monica, best known for her duet with Brandy on “The Boy is Mine,” provides heartfelt testimonials on parenthood and marriage on her latest album, New Life, her first in two years. (Photo courtesy of Monica).

Fear not Monica fans. The ‘90s contemporary R&B diva still has the singing chops to compete with her fellow songstresses. Two years since her 2010 release, Still Standing, Monica returns with New Life, a soulful comeback that retains the singer’s R&B regality while exploring themes of maturity and companionship.

The artist has steered clear of a drama-filled lifestyle, and there is an authenticity and attitude to Monica that continues to be a crucial part of her music. This is the case with New Life. It’s essentially a 43 minute long testimonial highlighting some of the best moments of the artist’s life. “Amazing” shines with soulful elegance as it reflects on her marriage with NBA player Shannon Brown. “Everything I lost, everything I’ve been/No longer makes a difference since you changed my name,” sings Monica. She uses her vulnerability as an aid to her music. She knows that her fans have grown up, so Monica discusses feelings she believes her audience can relate to.

Don’t doubt for a second that Monica’s bad-girl swag has completely left the building, though. “Anything” shows that the diva has still got it. Co-written by hip-hop heavyweight Missy Elliott, “Anything” bumps hard with its sampling of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya” and a guest contribution from Maybach Music boss, Rick Ross. It’s a street love song reminiscent of Mary J. Blige and Method Man’s “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Ross hopes to win Monica’s heart with tales of luxurious living and romance.

At times, the album can become too preachy, coming off as a wannabe gospel hit, rather than providing a well-rounded reflection of who Monica is today. For example, in “Cry” Monica sings, “I know everybody says that we can’t be scared/But you don’t have to be strong right now, no.” It’s absolutely generic; Monica does nothing to separate herself from gospel singers like CeCe Winans, relying on the same chord progressions and lyrical content expected in contemporary gospel music.

Still, New Life struts with ‘90s groove and authenticity. It reminisces about the good old days of contemporary R&B, channeling the vibrant sounds of artists Mary J. Blige and TLC. It’s refreshing in an age where bubblegum pop rules supreme to hear an album that’s heavy on heartfelt vocals with substantial content to back them up.

Printed on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 as: New R&B album goes old school