The storyteller is better than the story

It’s tough trying to quantify why one album is more likeable than another, especially in a genre in which I’m not familiar.

How is it I can still listen to TLC’s 3D but not give 3LW’s A Girl Can Mack a second chance? And how is it Mary J. Blige, who’s never been mentioned on this site before, got review space over Alicia Keys, who has?

Perhaps it’s because Blige is everywhere nowadays.

Right at the start of Missy Elliott’s This Is Not a Test!wh00t! There she is. About three tracks into Sting’s Sacred Lovewh00t! There she is again.

And with a voice as powerful and expressive as Blige’s, it’s tough not to take notice.

Love & Life is the only album from Blige to which I’ve listened. As such, it’s the best album from Blige to which I’ve listened.

Thematically, the songs on Love & Life don’t exactly break new literary ground.

Girl meets boy. Girl pledges devotion to boy. Boy does girl wrong. Girl gets hers back.

But here’s a case where the storyteller is better than the story.

When Blige delivers her plea “Don’t Go”, it’s enough for me to say, “I’m staying right here, babygirl.” (Never mind the fact we both bat for the same team.)

When she ruminates on the idea of “Friends”, you almost wanna kick the shit out of the duplicitous sonofabitch who broke Mary’s heart.

And when she vows to cook and clean for you on “Ooh!”, you almost expect to find her waiting at home for you.

Blige’s plain-spoken — and surprisingly grammatically correct — lyrics won’t reveal their sincerity on paper. For that, you’d need to listen to the woman herself.

And don’t let the celebrity (or notoriety?) of Sean “Puffy AmiYumi” Combs interfere with your enjoyment of Love & Life. Dude may be a heel for convincing Sting to let him mangle his biggest hit, but his production work on Love & Life does right by Miss Mary.

The samples of harps and guitars at the start of “Don’t Go”, the ominous bass on “Press On”, that bizarre loop underpinning “When We” — all nice touches that wonderfully underscore Blige’s voice.

So maybe that’s it — why an album makes a connection in a unfamiliar genre. Sing it with conviction, and it doesn’t matter what the story is.

And Mary J. Blige can sing it.