Mary J. Blige, “Strength of a Woman”

“Strength of a Woman,” the new album from Mary J. Blige, moves like a forest fire: ruthless, wide-ranging, blunt. The heat emanating off it is palpable. Blige has been scorned, is aggrieved and is dead set on payback. No sensible person would want to be on the receiving end of this record.

There is one disarmingly sweet moment, though.

On “Set Me Free,” Blige delivers some stern talk to the person responsible: “Tell me how you figure/That you made me and you gave me what I had before I met ya/And gonna have it when you’re gone.” It’s a lecture that goes from rage to finger-wagging and back.

And then she pauses, and sings, in a deliciously high and sugary voice, “There’s a special place in hell for youuuuuuuu.”

This album is an unburdening, though one that’s rarely enacted with such glee. Blige recently split from Kendu Isaacs, her longtime husband and manager, and has been sharing details in the media. It is an unfortunate and messy trauma.

And yet. Blige is a virtuoso of suffering; few singers in recent decades have been as convincing in relating pain. And “Strength of a Woman” — her first album since the underappreciated “The London Sessions,” in 2014 — is her most affecting and wounded album in several years.


Gorillaz “Humanz” (Warner )

The first Gorillaz album in six years ends with a tongue-in-cheek musical detente between two former Britpop rivals — Blur’s Damon Albarn and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. “We got the power to be loving each other,” they sing, a notion that brought Noel’s estranged brother Liam Gallagher to a boil. In a series of social media rants, he compared the song to the 1985 Mick Jagger-David Bowie duet on “Dancing in the Street,” a low point in both singers’ careers.

Liam’s not wrong. “We Got the Power” is a disappointing finish to an otherwise strong if anxiety-ridden album. Albarn, along with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, has turned the virtual band that is Gorillaz into something of a world party over the past 15 years with performers ranging from Colombian singer Kali Uchis to veteran rappers De La Soul. The current project largely came together as the U.S. presidential election was unfolding last year, and Albarn guided the artists to create music that suited the aftermath of a world-changing event.

Rapper Pusha T converses with gospel great Mavis Staples as she tries to keep hope alive on “Let Me Out.” Grace Jones brings her wicked, wicked ways to the buzzing agitation of “Charger.” And Vince Staples imparts a twisted, celebratory vibe to the apocalypse in “Ascension”: “The sky’s falling, baby!” Staples suggests the outcasts will rule the world — or what’s left of it, anyway — and they’ll be dancing on the ashes.

Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune

new releases

• The Afghan Whigs, “In Spades”

• At the Drive-In, “ in·ter a·li·a”

• Blondie, “Pollinator”

• Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, “Best Troubadour”

• Chris Stapleton, “From a Room: Vol 1”

• The Suicide Commandos, “Time Bomb”