Blige struggles admirably to describe “What Love Is” and pays the price for letting insecurities and jealousy lead to an unfair accusation (“Fade Away”). “Work That” and “Just Fine” convey optimism and a healthy sense of self. The desire to heal broken relationships involves making peace (“Come to Me”), vulnerably inviting honest communication (“Talk to Me”) and working together (“Stay Down”).
A line on “Work That” alludes to palm reading. Worse yet are several sexual tracks. Specifically, on “Till the Morning” Blige basks in the afterglow and is hungry for seconds, asking a partner, “Was it good to ya?/ Can you give a little more?” Awash in sensual swagger, “Grown Woman” brags about expensive clothes and sex appeal. To “Feel Like a Woman” Blige wants a night of passion. Foreplay includes demanding that her lover pick up big-ticket gifts (“Buy me diamonds, buy me pearls/Buy me this, buy me that/Make me fall deeper in love with you”).
Mary J. Blige was discovered at a local mall in White Plains, N.Y., while singing to a karaoke machine. Eight CDs and dozens of Grammy noms later, she’s showing some signs of maturity (no obscenities, drugs or alcohol), but materialism and sex hijack Growing Pains.