Monica’s long-ago monster duet with Brandy, “The Boy is Mine,” installed her, briefly, as one of R&B’s reigning princesses. But princesses should be a little lovable, and Monica, well, she isn’t. She’s regal, severe, as brittle as Brandy is soft, and twice as interesting.
Her new disc, “New Life,” starts with what sounds like a voice mail message from Mary J. Blige, who endorses Monica’s abilities as a wife, a mother and a singer at such length that you’re not sure whether Monica is launching a new album or running for Congress. What follows is an offering that’s heavy on hard-luck ballads and light on snappy, elbow-throwing joints.
Most of “New Life” is middle-of-the-road R&B with a few electro flourishes baked in, and though Monica deserves something meatier than these passive done-me-wrong songs, she doesn’t get it until the penultimate track, the Adele-recalling “Time to Move On,” an old-school call that emphasizes her astounding range.
The closest “New Life” comes to a defining moment is “It All Belongs to Me,” a reunion duet with Brandy notable mostly for its lineage. A kiss-off to a bad boyfriend, it’s a more rapacious version of “Irreplaceable” (get off my MacBook, leave the car, etc.); call it “The Stuff Is Mine.”