When I think of Monica these days, I think of artists like Evelyn “Champagne” King and Cheryl Lynn. Female singers who didn’t do much writing and producing, but were flawless vocalists whose albums were never great, but were also never bad. Models of consistency. For most of the past two decades, ever since debuting at the tender age of 15, Monica Arnold-Brown has been a model of consistency. Her albums always have a decent amount of good tracks on them, her voice never disappoints and her music is seldom embarrassing (collaborations with Dem Franchise Boyz notwithstanding.)
Monica’s sixth album, New Life, finds the singer in a reflective, happy place. The precocious teenager is now a thirty +, married mother of two. Thankfully, she doesn’t spend much of the album trying to hang with the younger girls. Monica and her team of writers and producers stay in a lane that may not produce #1 pop hits, but produces quality, solid R&B music. It’s not flashy, but it doesn’t need to be-it’s well written and performed.
Although New Life gets off to kind of a bad start with the bland Brandy reunion song “It All Belongs To Me,” it quickly regains footing. Monica’s soul-drenched voice is always best when handed midtempo, melodic material. Now, we realize that sort of thing isn’t really in these days, but thankfully someone in Monica’s camp (hopefully Monica herself) put their foot down and said “no Auto-tune, no dance-pop and (almost) no guest rappers.” The woman is allowed to sing, and her voice carries the album.
Although the concept is somewhat lazy, first single “Until It’s Gone” is a winner thanks to a sample of Phyllis Hyman’s exquisite “I Don’t Want To Lose You.” Why do I call the concept lazy? Well, Monica’s last album’s first single rode a very similar sample (Deniece Williams’ “Silly”) to success. I guess repeating formula is part of the music business. It’s surrounded by songs like “Take A Chance” (a daring slow jam which features rapper Wale and Monica in sort of a call-and-response narrative arc) and the spine-tingling “Time To Move On,” which might be the closest Monica has gotten to gospel on any of her albums.
New Life isn’t going to blow you away with any crazy concepts or flash and bang. It’s simply a well-sung album of fair-to-very good songs. It’s one of those albums that you won’t pull out all the time to listen to, but every once in a while you’ll put it on and say to yourself “damn, I forgot how good this album was.” If you’re a child of the late Eighties and early Nineties in R&B, particularly, you’ll find Monica’s latest to be quite an enjoyable piece of work.