Would Mary J. Blige’s sumptuously harmonized “Hood Love” have been a bigger hit four years earlier? One of her great singles (an R&B No. 25 under the title “We Got Hood Love”), it had the same production team as “Be Without You” and a similarly dancing vocal, but with the ache of love fought for rather than the glow of love surrendered to. That might be the difference right there, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that pop wanted less to do with Blige or the ‘hood in general by 2009.
For the album, her first since her debut to escape Grammy recognition, she personalized the club production so thoroughly you’d think the latest styles were invented for her. A gorgeously insistent “Tonight” offers urgent assurance that all marital problems can be put off by, if not resolved in, the bedroom. “I Am” loves you better than Share My World‘s “I Can Love You.” And “I Can See in Color,” her best collaboration with Raphael Saadiq, is a retro slow-builder for the Precious soundtrack, a project close to Blige’s heart.