Some kind of distance — if not yet sobriety — allowed Mary J. Blige to step back from her holding pattern of lengthy emoting and return with shorter, catchier affirmations of the good decisions she had in her. And if this fifth album also introduces the less personal idea that contemporary sounds go better with Mary, the hits allowed her to talk to more girls than ever.
So “Family Affair,” her first pop No. 1, is about neither family nor affairs, but instead its Dr. Dre-produced state-of-the-club funk lope, and the mild notion that losing your mind on the dance floor might be an act of discipline and peace-making; love the beat, don’t beat the lover. “Steal Away” escapes with the Neptunes, while the title track formalizes the view of her life as a soap opera needing a channel-flip by lifting the theme from The Young and the Restless and giving it a gospel climax. Even the ostensibly personal “PMS” feels light, rewriting Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” to vent with ladies about “the worst part of being a woman.” “Dance for Me” (sampling the Police’s “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”) is a return to hip-hop soul, and provided the title for a remix collection in 2002.
But except for the Chucky Thompson-produced “PMS,” it all feels like minor Blige, tentative and slick where her past fusions were so bold. The album marked another dip in sales (1.9 million units), so a skittish MCA re-released No More Drama in 2002 with a new cover (another white background) and song selection, deleting “Crazy Games,” “Keep It Moving,” and “Destiny” to add “Rainy Dayz” (featuring Ja Rule), the cheater ballad “He Think I Don’t Know,” and a bonus Sean “P. Diddy” Combs remix of the title track, while swapping out the album version of “Dance for Me” (with Ahkim Miller) for the single featuring Common — four new tracks in all. The company could take it as vindication that “He Think I Don’t Know” won a Grammy, and the re-release sold 1.2 million. But MCA was soon swallowed by Geffen anyway.