Mary J. Blige has moved on from empowerment to soulful diva on her first disc in two years, the Boston Globe’s Joan Anderman writes. "A celebration of the artist's hard-won happiness," Growing Pains won Anderman over by "revealing her weaknesses." Blige still urges listeners to stand tall on a joyful "Just Fine," but now sings a slow “I need you to rescue me" on "Feel Like a Woman."
MJB has “lost or just outgrown the brassy urgency of her twenties,” says Rolling Stone’s Robert Christgau—but he salutes her return to hip-hop that informed her early career. The retro style imbues proud proclamations like, “I work this relationship nine to five.” But while her past confessions felt like "painful late-night outbursts," her new tunes "sound more like she's had a lot of therapy."