If anyone can make pain and struggle sound like a beautiful story of bliss it’s Monica, who has brought us classic hits for the past 15 years. No matter what she has a way of touching hearts and souls everywhere, with not just her amazing voice but her sincere messages.

She’ll definitely touch hearts with her sixth studio album “Still Standing,” which hit iTunes and stores Tuesday, March 23. The album serves as a rendition of the pain she’s faced and is overcoming to this day. And to those fans that tuned into BET and followed her 12-episode reality television show “Still Standing,” it is the celebration to her much anticipated “comeback.”    

The album’s first single, “Still Standing,” featuring rapper Ludacris, is her personal testimony as she declares that “she’s the world’s strongest woman,” and you really can’t disagree with her on that.

 During the past decade she witnessed the suicide of her ex-boyfriend, lost love, gained love, became a mother to two beautiful boys (Rodney and Romelo) and matured into a graceful woman with an amazing spirit.

She uses the song to tell this story and provide reassurance in knowing that no matter what happens in life giving up is never an option.

The single, was a great way to jump start the album, but with much anticipation the follow-up falls slightly behind. With only 10 tracks the album is habitual. Considering it’s been almost 4 years since “The Makings of Me” dropped in 2006, many people expected something more and something fresh. Instead we get an album that is short and typical.

Don’t get me wrong as always, Monica showed proved that she’s still commendable when it comes to this music thing. But the new school factor is lacking. (In a musical world dominated by Beyonce, Rihanna and even Lady Gaga traditional is so far gone.)

That being the case some songs that take us back to the old school Monica, while at the same time adding flavor to the album, include: “Stay or Go,” (written and produced by Ne-Yo and Bei Major) “One in a Lifetime,” (written by Carlos McKinney), and “Superman,” (written and produced by Bryan Michael-Cox). They are all beautifully executed and perfectly embodies what it is to love, what it is to lose love and what it is to want lost love back. You can never go wrong with love.

Listeners also get the surprise treat of Missy Elliot, as she appears as a writer/producer on both “Everything to Me,” the second single off the album (also written by Jazmine Sullivan) and “If You Were My Man,” in which we hear the infamous “New Monica,” yelled at the beginning of the track.

Surprisingly, neither of the two songs is a favorite. “Everything to Me,” takes time to grow on the ear and is a mediocre sample. Or maybe it’s just me that can’t get past the first line without drifting off into singing the words of the sampled song, “Silly,” by Denise Williams, a true ‘80s classic, and one that I’ve loved forever.

Overall Monica will always be a favorite, but with the changing age of music and intertwining of R&B and Pop it would have been nice to see the veteran singer shine through and try something new.

Her return to the music scene is a gift in itself, so no complaints there. The album, as a tribute to her struggle, is commendable and it’s just good enough to remind us, why we love her so much.

Ebony Haynes

[Hip Hop U-C-IT Senior Writer]

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Early sales indicate that Monica’s brand new album, Still Standing, is projected to debut at #1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and #2 on the Top 200 album charts. Released on March 23 on J Records, Still Standing is currently #2 at iTunes and Amazon.

Leading the way to Still Standing’s top of the charts entry is the album’s first single Everything To Me, which is currently #1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and #10 on the Ringtone chart. The projected album entry will maintain Monica’s long standing track record of chart-topping debuts and marks her second consecutive #1 R&B Album debut. Monica’s previous 3 albums (The Makings Of Me, After The Storm, The Boy Is Mine) have debuted at #1 and/or #2 on either the Top 200 or Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums charts.

Complementing Still Standing success are the equally high ratings from the critics. People magazine’s 3-star (out of 4) review of Still Standing cites, “It’s a consistently rewarding set that relies on Monica’s strong delivery,” while USA Today states the album “effectively revisits the past in a gimmick-free set of cool R&B tracks.”

Monica’s critically-acclaimed album Still Standing is available in stores now.