They’re not going to wash themselves, are they?…
Alex Ostroff: I overrated the first single from this album, valuing the beat and the production and Drake more than the damage it inflicted on Mary’s voice via obnoxious Autotune meddling. It took about 15 seconds into “I Am” before I realized how woefully wrong I had been. The production isn’t anything special — Stargate-by-the-numbers, mostly. The message isn’t particularly inspiring — an attempt to prevent infidelity by insisting that “I’m the best you can get.” But the sheer power of Blige to emote is staggering. There’s a depth of feeling in the grain and nuance of her voice that few people can match.
Anthony Easton: Birdsongs, water lapping across stones, melodramatic strings, her immaculate voice, and the unadulterated ego; she is one with the universe.
Martin Skidmore: Like a lot of hers, I sort of admire its quality without at any point being excited or moved. There seems no ambition in this beyond just getting another single out.
Michaelangelo Matos: Pretty good for autopilot — meaning for Mary, period, these days. Auto-Tune treats her better than I’d have expected, maybe because here it’s frosting rather than the cake, but probably more because the song is friskier than her norm these days.
John Seroff: I’ll always have a soft spot for Blige; 411 and My Life will forever bring out a smile. Lately though, her “I’m gonna make it” inspirational ballads have dipped into the insipid; “I Am” is musically flat and glaringly lyrically bland. The verve and hurt on display as recently as ’07’s Growing Pains is missing here; I hope this is a sign that maybe Mary’s finally worked out some of that drama? Good for her; not so good for us.
Alfred Soto: As Mary J gets older, she yields more readily to her weakness for psychobabble, which for a while has served her commercially as her claque ages too. Don’t tell her younger fans though, for whom the underrated Growing Pains and The Breakthrough sound stodgy and long-winded, despite the best songwriting-for-hire of Ne-Yo’s career (maybe The-Dream too). Meanwhile a stuttering string sample rattles the chordal debt to Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together,” while her voice — reliant on its high end now that she’s safer with generalities — cuts like a hot knife through a stack of Keyshia Cole CDs. It’s no “Stay Down” or “Be Without You,” but it’ll do.
Kat Stevens: Mary seems to be grabbing wildly at each word and the production seems to have been beefed up to compete with her, almost ruining the lovely melody. It’s not bad at all, but the last thirty seconds of ‘oh-oh-oh’s would definitely work an octave higher AHEM should have given it to Mariah COUGH.
Matt Cibula: This would be my 17th-favorite Mariah Carey song if it was really by Mariah Carey.
Martin Kavka: The lover-please-stay lyric is usually a last gasp, spoken when the jig is up and the bags are packed. But for Mary, “nobody’s going to treat you as good as I am” going to treat you in the future after you’ve realized what an idiot you have to be to leave me. The end of this argument is fated. You’re staying, and I’ve just dashed off a neat little song about your lame little ass while you made the most obvious decision of your life. You are soooooo my bitch.
Al Shipley: It’s bubbly and kind of irresistible, even as prim and bland as it seems at first. But as ridiculous as it is to critique R&B on grammar, it just drives me nuts how the chorus would make so much more sense if every phrase ended with “I will” or “I do” instead.