Album Review: Monica, New Life (Deluxe Edition)


New Life (released April 10, 2012)

Here’s a tidbit that will make you feel really old: We first heard Monica’s debut single exactly 17 years to the day of her most recent release, New Life.

For almost two decades (geez, I’m old…), Monica’s powerful voice has produced top-notch, memorable songs. Despite that, Monica has never compiled a definite, classic album. She has a catalogue of good albums, but that one great album alludes her.

Monica’s oft-delayed New Life has been poised as her turning point. The album intro, featuring a voicemail from Mary J. Blige, dismisses the drama of past relationships and vows a fresh start. While Monica’s definitely talking about her love life, I figured this would also be a great time to experiment with a new sound, taking those mighty pipes of hers in a new direction.

Sadly, Monica decides to play it safe. Way, way, WAY too safely.

The biggest story of the album is Monica reuniting with Brandy for “It All Belongs to Me,” sort of a sequel to 1998’s omnipresent “The Boy Is Mine.” This time, instead of battling over a guy, they’re simultaneously kicking him to the curb. The song has received a lot of press but it falls a bit flat – the girls simply demand their guys return all their gifts, in boring fashion. They should have just called the track “Yo Stuff Is Mine.”

Unfortunately, the remaining tracks don’t rise much higher. “Big Mistake” and “Without You” are solid ballads that I really wanted to love but they just don’t leave an impression. “Man Who Has Everything” features a beat reminiscent of Jazmine Sullivan’s “Need U Bad” but it’s not nearly as memorable. It’s so odd that everything is so middle-of-the-road when A-list producers like Jermaine Dupri, Missy Elliott and Polow da Don took the reins.

The Deluxe Edition’s bonus tracks don’t add much, save for “Anything (To Find You).” We’ve discussed this track before and it’s not bad – the sample of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?” really stands out among the album’s heavy load of so-so ballads.

Still, you just can’t deny Monica’s voice. “Time to Move On” is sung masterfully and reminds you that few vocalists can rival Miss Thang. That’s what makes New Life one of the most frustrating albums I’ve heard in months. The talent is there, the production is there, the songwriting is there but there’s a spark that’s missing. Even that horrid Lil B album had one noteworthy track.

I wouldn’t dare call New Life a bad album (it doesn’t fall anywhere near the depths of this farce) but it’s almost like an talent show audition or demo tape. It proves Monica can outsing your favorite pop artist, but once the song ends, no connection has been made with the listener. Sadly, it leaves New Life, well, lifeless.

Best tracks: “Anything (To Find You),” “Time to Move On”

3 stars out of 5


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