Picks and Pans Review: Mary J. Blige

updated 12/24/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/24/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST

Growing Pains |

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Three things you can count on: death, taxes and good Mary J. Blige albums. And her eighth studio disc, easily on par with 2005's Grammy-winning hit The Breakthrough, is often better than good (if not perfect). Take the great first single, "Just Fine." Riding a killer dance groove reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," a blissed-out Blige exorcises all the demons fans have listened to her battle over the years. It's an instant MJB classic. She keeps the party going on "Till the Morning," a bass-heavy, Neptunes-produced jam that echoes the Taana Gardner disco gem "Heartbeat." And it wouldn't be a Mary J. CD without some soul-baring ballads. Best include the thorns-and-all "Roses" and the hauntingly melancholy "Fade Away," on which Blige shares her pain as only she can.

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