“Be Without You”
Mary J. Blige: “Be Without You”
|Genre:||R & B|
Of all the cuts on Mary J Blige’s new The Breakthrough, “Be Without You” isn’t the lean and mean single with which she usually leads. A pensive piano line introduces the melody over a barely perceptible synth whoosh. The backing beat is a forgetful, yawning pulse. Musically, “Be Without You” sounds like every other love-jones-ing female R&B song right now—anybody else mistake this one for “We Belong Together” when all you catch is the intro on the radio?—and Blige has always been anything but just like every other woman.
Then that voice cuts through the background wallpaper, and you remember what hot-wired ears to heart on What’s the 411? It wasn’t the seamless production that put a hip-hop engine into soul’s chassis. Blige sang about shit that meant something to her. And yeah, it’s just singing, but something about her not-quite-right voice invests her melodrama with a wallop you can’t fake.
Blige alone sells “Be Without You” in the way James Mason reading cereal ingredients becomes riveting. She caresses the first verse with a slow jam’s expected suspicious mind and climbs into a meatier midrange for the chorus. She cartwheels through sassy vocal gymnastics for the second verse’s accusations and then cools off during the second chorus. And she starts the final verse at a full-throated reverie that she backs away from, only to leap back to impassioned belting come the final chorus. “Be Without You” is classic narrative songwriting that’s as old as church, and Blige handles it with a consummate agility that doesn’t shed one iota of wasted pyrotechnics.