No relation to 2gether…
Alfred Soto: After 2014’s uneven but charming Disclosure collaboration, Mary J. Blige returns to more cavernous neo neosoul. New tricks she’s learned too: I like the way the melody lifts on the last two syllables of each chorus word. These subtleties aside, there isn’t a single note or lyric she hadn’t sung in 2005 or 1995, but it’s comfortable.
Thomas Inskeep: Sadly for MJB, nothing seems to nurture her more, artistically, than heartbreak. Her recent divorce has her pouring her heart into her music, first on the winter single “Thick of It” and now on her new “U + Me.” And based on these two singles, her next album is gonna kill. Brandon Hodge helms the production on “U + Me,” and it’s simultaneously current and classic Blige, with synthetic fingersnaps featured prominently through the verses and a heavily percussive chorus. Mary, meanwhile, does what she does best: she makes you feel every single line. This song makes me ache, but it’s also inspiring, as she reminds herself “gotta … love myself through the hard times.” Iyanla Vanzant’s got nothing on MJB at the peak of her powers, folks.
Edward Okulicz: Gonna throw myself to the lions here and admit that I don’t understand the fuss about Mary J Blige. Her songs do little for me with the odd exception, and I find her voice rather overrated. She definitely goes for it, and the production is unfussy and classy. But for all that, the chorus chugs and turns its wheels but doesn’t move, and her matter-of-fact lived-in wisdom delivery is a story I’ve heard from far better songwriters. Lots of lovely touches — that buried melody in the background of the second verse — but at the risk of exposing my poor taste, this tastes of nothing.
Tim de Reuse: Blige sets up a mid-energy, cool-tempered pace and coasts on it for five minutes, resulting in a track so straightforward that it doesn’t initially stick in your memory all that well; it took me a few listens to realize how her delivery is the only attention-grabbing thing against such a meandering, glassy-eyed instrumental. Mercifully, she’s good enough to justify the way the back half of the track chases its own tail.
Jessica Doyle: The versus, chorus, and music are all acting at cross purposes: in the verses the hurt is still fresh, the chorus is more resigned, and both are backed by music conveying confidence in its restraint. That said, the song benefits greatly from being in Blige’s hands: beyond the sheer beauty of her voice, her commitment to the concept–packing syllables beyond what the lines can hold at first, in her indignation and confusion and grief, then low and resigned later on–strengthens it.
Scott Mildenhall: It’s weird (not weird) that despite “U + Me” not marking too much of a departure from Mary J.’s last album The London Sessions, it isn’t being met with the same rapturous reception by the cool cats at Radio 1 and elsewhere. Nevertheless, what this lacks in a credit for two of Blazin’ Squad, it makes up for in languorous lows. If it were possible for any unambiguous sense to be applied to the phrase “lived-in”, it would be through this song, and that is its main appeal. At the same time, though, “lived-in” and “lesson” together can imply that the latter may be going on too long.