Monica - Still Standing. (album review)


Mar 21 2010, 19h53

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Still Standing is Monica’s first album since The Makings Of Me 4 years ago. Like that album, Still Standing stands at a brief ten tracks (bonuses excluded), and the font on the album cover is the same. Missy Elliott has a strong presence in the album’s production, and in case you forget this fact, she grunts and shouts at the beginning of some of the tracks to announce “New Monica! Hot shit!” This annoying tic disrupts the flow of an album that is largely slow to mid-tempo, and is unnecessary since we know we’re listening to Monica and we don’t need Missy Elliott to bludgeon us over the head with her opinion of her own track.

Unlike The Makings Of Me however, Still Standing is “hot shit” from beginning to end. Representing the strongest album Monica has released since The Boy Is Mine (or possibly All Eyez on Me), Still Standing contains one uptempo track, “If You Were My Man”, which is tellingly the album’s only weak point, riding an 80s groove that sounds genuine and laid back even as the bass knocks hard. Apart from this song, the album runs at a slow, leisurely pace that really invites the listener to sink into the songs and contemplate the alternately loving and lovelorn lyrics accompanying the tracks. Despite the album’s slow tempo, the 10 tracks seem to be over too soon, and when an album makes you want to press repeat immediately, that’s a good sign that it’s a decent effort. What’s more, although there was a real danger that with so many slow songs, they might melt into one another to become a big treacly mess, the lyrics, melodies and production are all immaculate throughout and each song is distinguished from the next. ”Still Standing” (the first song we heard from this project way back in 2008, which opens the album with a declaration of strength and resilient and deserves to be the title track) and “Mirror” employ persistent, menacing synths and underlying piano to emphasise the empowering nature of their lyrics, and are two highlights from the album.

Everything To Me”, the album’s first proper single, has been an unlikely hit considering its radio-unfriendliness (a 3/4 time signature? How refreshing!). However, its soaring declaration of love is elevated by Monica’s stellar vocal delivery, and while sonically she sounds more and more like a young Mary J. Blige (Still Standing is the album Stronger With Each Tear should have been), it is becoming more and more apparent that Clive Davis was right all along and Monica is truly the vocal heir to Whitney Houston. ”One In A Lifetime” (which couldn’t sound more like a Mary J. Blige track if it tried, robbing liberally from her mega-hit “Be Without You”) is radio-ready but still sincere, while “Superman” employs a plethora of hero metaphors over a slow-jam beat.

In contrast to these romantic songs stands “Stay Or Go”, another album highlight which takes the flowing piano from Chris Brown’s “So Cold” (the best song from his mediocre Graffiti), slows it down and adds more mature lyrics and beautiful vocal stylings to the mix to serve up an effective ultimatum to Monica’s love interest. Album closer “Believing In Me” sees Monica heartbroken, defiant and finding her strength of heart and soul all over again in the wake of a broken relationship. Just as “Getaway” was a declaration of vulnerability at the end of The Makings Of Me, so is “Believing In Me” a declaration of vulnerability but also independence, which one might relate to Monica’s recent split from her long-time partner Rocko. It closes the album well, with Monica’s vocals on the edge of tears close to the song’s climax.

Still Standing succeeds because while it sounds current, it doesn’t pander to radio’s demands for disposable fluff and instead hews close to Monica’s strengths as a supreme R&B vocalist, giving her solid melodies to express heartfelt lyrics. Every song is strong and uncompromising, standing on its own merits and together these songs form a cohesive whole. Annoying grunts aside, Missy Elliott handles production duties well, as do the other producers (particularly Bryan-Michael Cox), and if the album is brief at 10 tracks, at least it serves up excellent quality and is markedly better than The Makings Of Me which contained the same number of songs. It feels like Monica has really hit her stride after previous album wobbles, and it’s so refreshing in 2010 to find some artists making true R&B still enjoying commercial and critical success.


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  • TillItsGone

    Wonderfully thought out review. We all know Monica is a wonderful singer, with the songs to prove it, but I have to admit that I'm skeptical after having heard the snippets. My fear was that it'd be too pop-influenced and not enough smooth-rnb melodies which is my main search in RnB albums of course, but after reading this you have me wanting to give the whole album a go. P.S - Missy Elliot's tics r the least of my worries, as long as the song's great I couldn't give a damn. LOL!

    Mar 24 2010, 20h14
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