After her somewhat lukewarm 2003 release LOVE & LIFE, Mary J. Blige returns to her rightful place as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul with 2005's THE BREAKTHROUGH. Blige enlisted a host of guest producers to contribute tracks to THE BREAKTHROUGH, and the result is one of her strongest and most varied albums. As usual, the sound is a mixture of smooth, urban contemporary and hip-hop edge, but Blige nails it with tracks like the pulsing "Enough Cryin'" (with its rich, multi-layered vocals) and the breezy "Can't Hide From Luv" featuring a guest spot by Jay-Z.
The album's lead-off single, "Be Without You," a bittersweet slow jam, is representative of the album's themes, which focus on feelings of strength and weakness in love. But whether waxing romantic ("Can't Get Enough") or detailing the travails of the heart ("Baggage"), Blige lays down elastic R&B vocal lines that are second to none. Even a seemingly unlikely duet with Bono and U2 on "One" comes across beautifully, adding a new dimension to that familiar tune.
Entertainment Weekly (p.78) - "[The albums'] sprawl of conflicted emotions feels true to her fierce, prickly personality." -- Grade: B
Mojo (Publisher) (p.93) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[T]his new album reveals a still intense and enthralling grittiness to her performances..."