Album Review : Monica’s ‘New Life’

Considering that R’n’B Royalty Monica has had a career spanning over 17 years, a stellar discography that boasts of milestones like her being the youngest artist in history to have back-to-back # 1 songs on the Billboard R’n’B Singles Chart (she was a mighty 14 years of age when ‘Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)‘ and ‘Before You Walk Out Of My Life‘ from her triple-platinum certified 1995 début ‘Miss Thang‘ ruled the charts), it’s safe to declare Monica a bona fide and seasoned veteran. We’re dealing with the same woman who’s given us one of the biggest hits of all time, the Brandy-assisted ‘The Boy Is Mine‘, that went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 for a whopping 13 weeks, eventually fetching the duo a Grammy in 1999. And just so you know, Monica is the only artist in history to top the Billboard R’n’B Singles Chart in 3 successive decades, the 90’s, 00’s and the 10’s. So when an artist of Monica’s caliber releases her 6th studio album (7th if you count the Japan-only release ‘All Eyez On Me‘), it is kind of a big deal!

New Life‘, Monica’s 6th studio album, is not exactly a triumphant return to form, neither is it a career-defining, revolutionary record. Monica might be enjoying a new life after her marriage with NBA player Shannon Brown, but musically, she plays it safe with her latest effort, serving up a collection of vintage and classic R’n’B jams that might sound generic and dated to some. And that necessarily is not a bad thing at all. Considering that Monica’s contemporaries like smooth crooner Usher and Soul siren Toni Braxton have all, rather shamelessly, started chasing current trends to appeal to the younger demography, it’s commendable that Monica still keeps it real like she used to back in the day, with some timeless R’n’B. It’s incredibly refreshing  to have no sign of Auto-tune, Electro-R’n’B, Dubstep infiltrating Monica’s supremely robust voice, which, by the way, seems to sound better and seasoned with each album!

New Life‘ starts off with an intro featuring the Queen Of Hip-Hop/Soul Mary J Blige herself (I’d rather prefer an entire song featuring Mary on Monica’s next record), and with her words of encouragement, Monica plunges straight into the first single of the album, ‘It All Belongs To Me‘, the much-buzzed about duet with fellow R’n’B veteran Brandy, 14 years after their uber-successful single ‘The Boy Is Mine‘ smashed records worldwide. The Rico Love-produced mid-tempo R’n’B jam is completely devoid of any gimmick whatsoever, and though it lacks the sass of its predecessor, it’s still overwhelming to see the two songbirds collaborating again, especially since they sound as flawless as they did a decade and a half ago, rather, better!

The Rico Love-produced ‘Daddy’s Good Girl‘ illustrates the growth and maturity in Monica’s voice. The song could have well been a part of Monica’s 2003 Billboard # 1 album ‘After The Storm‘, or her 2010 # 2 debuting gold-certified ‘Still Standing‘, and would have still sounded great, primarily cuz of its vintage sound that has remained remarkably consistent throughout her illustrious career.

If there’s any chance of a number 1 single being spawned on the R’n’B charts from this album, then the Polow Da Don and Monica produced ‘Without You‘, the second official single, would be the best bet. It’s a bluesy R’n’B driven ballad accompanied by some lush piano notes and throbbing synths, and is a powerful reminder of how mesmerizing Monica’s vocal prowess could be.

The only other guest apart from Brandy comes in the form of Wale, who makes a fairly generic contribution to the track ‘Take A Chance‘, another potential urban hit from the album.

Most of the album deals with the usual themes of heartbreak and love, issues that Monica’s all too familiar with since her personal life has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of twists and turns. Irrespective of sounding a tad bland, most of the album has a natural feel, especially tracks like the Cainon Lamb-produced ‘Big Mistake‘, and the Salaam Remi-produced ‘Cry‘. It’s Monica’s distinctive voice that gives life to songs that would have otherwise sounded banal, insipid or generally underwhelming.

And while the generic tracks mainly act as fillers, songs like the Missy Elliott-produced ‘Until It’s Gone‘ truly stand out. Released earlier as a buzz single,  ‘Until It’s Gone‘ may easily be considered as one of the best songs of her entire career. Monica’s brand of vintage Soul can pack quite a punch, and her emotive textured voice soars on this track.

Overall, Monica’s ‘New Life‘ does not offer anything new, and neither can it be considered as one of her best works. But for a woman who has consistently delivered good music for over 17 years, the album is a personal triumph. The sales and stats prove that as well, considering that ‘New Life‘ debuted at # 4 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, her 5th consecutive top 10 album there. Monica’s a grown woman now who’s not afraid to deal with her personal trials and tribulations, and she has her stories to tell through her music. She’s in a comfortable niche as of now, and as long as she’s singing from her heart, nothing can stop her from continuing her successful streak as one of the most prominent divas of contemporary R’n’B.