When Mary J. Blige reunited with Diddy for 2003’s Love and Life, disappointing material and diminished sales ensued. Blige’s new disc, The Breakthrough, doesn’t deliver everything its title suggests, but it’ll do until a real breakthrough comes along: An empathetic supporting cast revitalizes the hip-hop soul queen on this seventeen-track set of particularly classy material. There’s plenty of hip-hop and cameos to maintain Blige’s street credentials, minus the usual filler. The Rodney Jerkins-produced “Enough Cryin” is as elegant and stark as a beat-box-driven Run-DMC classic, and “MJB Da MVP” revisits Mary J.’s musical and personal history over a fat chunk of the Game’s “Hate It or Love It.” Jay-Z introduces the utterly jubilant “Can’t Hide From Luv” as “beautiful music,” and he’s not kidding: Blige has always distinguished herself on drama-drenched tracks, but this swirling celebration of desire and anticipation is so profoundly happy that Blige truly seems to have attained the peace she has chased for years.
Yet what ultimately differentiates Blige’s seventh studio album from previous discs is that its ballads truly matter. A five-song set of candid slow jams hits a peak with “I Found My Everything,” which evokes Sixties Aretha, and “Father in You,” where Blige asks her mate to compensate for the love her father denied. It’s a disarming request, and it sets up Blige’s interpretation of rock’s most famous song aimed squarely at a neglectful father: U2’s “One.” Bono sings the first verse and the band supplies sympathetic backing, but Blige owns the track with spine-tingling fury and frustration.