Mary J. Blige
has made it clear in virtually all of her TV appearances and interviews surrounding her sixth studio album that she's happy with the way things have been going for her, both personally and professionally. That's more than apparent -- albeit detrimentally apparent -- throughout Love & Life, an album that sees her linking back up with production from P. Diddy and company. The down side is that you can tell that her heart isn't as into the songs that deal with the nastier aspects of relationships. It's that distance that holds the album back from being one of her best; neither she nor her partners should've felt obligated to cover so much emotional territory, especially when an album's worth of material here (at least 40 of the 70 minutes) beams with joy (and/or desire) and goes along with where she's at right now. Even on the somewhat clunky lead single, "Love @ 1st Sight," Blige
's uplifted spirit is as contagious as it has ever been, and just the sound of her voice is enough to get by on. Though her re-pairing with P. Diddy doesn't return her to the glory of What's the 411?
, at least half a dozen cuts will vie for slots on a future best-of. For 11 years running, Blige
remains a durable and consistent artist, and no one is on the verge of dethroning her. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi