There's little doubt that Monica Brown one of the best pure R&B singers in the music business today. In an industry where vocalists increasingly rely on studio technology and crafty producers to make them sound good, Monica is the real deal: she could probably sing the phone book acapella and still sound sweet. But a couple of the knocks against her have been the occasional lack of emotion in her vocals, as well as a very narrow musical focus.
On her seventh studio album, New Life, which was released in the U.S. April 10, 2012, she's definitely more vocally emotive than in the past, which to an extent makes up for the album's very narrow theme, which limits the album's overall appeal.
The tone and theme of New Life is perfectly set on the opening track, "New Life (Intro)," which is based around a phone conversation between Monica and Mary J. Blige, where Mary advises her friend to enjoy and cherish her life, including her marriage to NBA player Shannon Brown, whom she tied the knot with in November 2010. And throughout the album, Monica does that for the most part, but not without a few glances back at the past. The most notable of which is the break-up song "It All Belongs to Me," a duet with previous co-conspirator Brandy. Over a restrained mid-tempo beat, the ladies take turns telling a man who's just been given the boot to get out of the house -- and to leave behind all the stuff he's trying to take with him, such as a MacBook, because it all belongs to her.
"I know you're mad, can't take no more, but put that back, that ain't yours," the chorus goes in part. But despite the bitter theme, both singers manage to come across as mature, sophisticated women on the song and not just petty, vindictive witches.
The other notable look back is the melancholy "Until It's Gone," a sad, mournful look at a broken relationship and one person's warning to her man about what to expect when it's all over. "One thing that I know for sure is that you're gonna miss me when I go," she sings. "I guess it's true what people say: you never know what you have until it's gone."
Another winner here is the album's third track, "Daddy's Good Girl," on which Monica sings about wanting to be loved and needed and how if she's satisfied, she won't stray. "And if you love me, tell me that you love me, I wanna hear those words before I go to bed," she sings. "And I promise to be good, daddy's good girl, long as I know you got that love for me, I'ma be g.o.o.d." There's a handful of other songs deserving of praise, including "Man Who Has Everything," a Caribbean-tinged track about how money can't buy love; and "Amazing," Monica's ode to her husband.
The good news here is that there's not a single song on New Life where Monica sounds like she's not fully invested in. Although she doesn't quite sing like her life's at stake the way Mary J. Blige can and does on a consistent basis, none of the songs sounds like it was just thrown together without much thought. But on the minus side is the album's lack of thematic diversity. If you're in a new relationship the way Monica was during the making of the album, you should certainly be able to appreciate all the songs about saying goodbye to an old love, finding a new love, taking a chance on love, remaining happily in love, starting a family, etc. But unfortunately, there's not enough musical, vocal or thematic diversity here. Fortunately for Monica, she's talented enough to keep this one dimensional ship afloat when a lesser singer would have definitely sunk it, even though it travels in very shallow water.