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Monica: Still Standing

Track List

>Still Standing
>One in a Lifetime
>Stay or Go
>Everything to Me
>If You Were My Man
>Here I Am
>Love All Over Me
>Believing in Me

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

2010 release from the multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning R&B artist. Producers joining her in the studio on the new project include Neyo, Missy Elliot, Jermaine Dupri, Brian Cox, Stargate and Carlos McKinney. Monica recently completed production on her own reality show also titled Still Standing, which began airing on BET to record ratings after the BET Hip Hop Awards on October 28th. The show features Monica's daily grind; juggling the roles of motherhood and recording artist, all the while trying to reclaim her slot at the top of the charts. Features the first single, 'Everything To Me'.

Still Standing is the sixth studio album by American R&B recording artist Monica. It was released on March 19, 2010 by J Records, marking her third album on the label following the renewal of her contract in October 2007. Production for the album began in 2007 to 2010, featuring involvement by Missy Elliott, Bryan-Michael Cox, Stargate, and Jermaine Dupri, and was chronicled by Monica's BET reality series of the same name.

The album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 184,000 in its first week, and reached the top of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Lead single "Everything to Me" became her first chart-topper in over seven years. Second single "Love All Over Me" was released in May 2010 and reached number two on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. The album received mostly positive reviews, with critics perceiving its sound as "a return to the mid-'1990s heyday" of contemporary R&B. A commercial success, Still Standing was certified gold by the RIAA with domestic shipments of 500,000 copies within a single month. The album has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, set to be presented at the 53rd Grammy Awards in 2011.

"Monica Arnold, as a vocalist, is the contemporary embodiment of less is more - embodying the emotive singing that characterized so much of black singing pre-1980 or so. She's blessed with perhaps the best alto of her generation and, despite a little too much vibrato at times, she's always been able to elevate even the most generic material (the insipid Diane Warren ballad "For You I Will" comes to mind) with conviction and the sheer beauty of her voice.

But that's the thing with Monica - she's just never really had the right material to really showcase her ability as a vocalist, not consistently anyway. And because subtlety has become something that the record-buying public has increasingly not valued much, she has been at an unfair disadvantage that has forced her to spend much of her career trying on a bunch of different sounds designed to make her as popular as her contemporaries, Brandy and Aaliyah (who have both had a greater sense of 'self' much earlier in their careers), greatness be damned. And the result of all of this is that, aside from her collaborations with the brilliant Dallas Austin (most notably, on "Street Symphony," her single greatest work to date), Monica the artist has been something of a cipher.

With Still Standing, all of that is over.

This mature, thoughtful and honest album finds Monica coming into her own. Here, she gives the public an album that provides a true snapshot of who she is at this moment in her life, without a lot of pretense and posturing. Too often in the past, the Monica you read about in the papers or saw in interviews didn't show up on the albums. And when it did - on the hoodrat-themed mess of her last two albums and singles like "Sideline Ho" and "So Gone" - it felt exploitative and indulgent. And the public rightly rejected all of that.

But here Monica mixes personal testimony with love songs that paint a full picture of a young woman who has been through the storm and emerged whole with a clearer sense of what she wants. The title track sets the tone as Monica, singing over a slightly anthemic track by Bryan-Michael Cox, says unequivocally that she ain't goin' nowhere. Or take "Mirror." With its somewhat cheesy lyrics about seeing the real self in the mirror, the song could have been a big ole mess. But it helps that the song is beautifully arranged and that Jim Jonsin dials back the production enough to let Monica's voice take center stage. There are a few other songs that could have just been maudlin odes to self-love and redemption - and in lesser hands, they very well could have been - but Monica makes them work because we can feel how important music is to her and how much she believes in what she's singing.

There is still plenty of ATL swag and attitude, but it is rooted in strong songwriting and real emotion. On "If You Were My Man" - which is built around Evelyn Champagne King's "Betcha She Don't Love You" - she makes you believe that this man's girlfriend really isn't as dope as Monica is. Just peep how she sings "I'll treat you better than she ever can." It's the closest thing to an uptempo on the album, but it's also damn fine piece of songwriting that lets Monica loosen up and have some fun.

But, of course, the best songs are about good ole fashioned love. Ne-Yo and the great Bei Maejor give Monica the best ballad she's recorded in ages with "Stay or Go," a song that is basically an ultimatum. But when Monica sings those words - "stay or go" - you hear fed up, sure, but you also hear a palpable amount of sadness and regret. And so the song has a melancholy tone that gives it weight it wouldn't otherwise have. Even her vocalizing at the end is tinged with sadness. It's a beautiful performance of perhaps the best song on the album. And "One in a Lifetime," "Love All Over Me", and first single "Everything to Me," built around Deniece Williams' "Silly," with that fantastic opening - "Boy if you ever left my, my side" - are all just as great.

Still Standing is an accomplished piece of work that is easily the best album Monica has yet released and should be heralded as a great R&B record. However since the record-buying public seems uninterested in R&B and the industry has followed suit by reviewing and commenting on R&B with the same level of disinterest (often dishonestly), anyone who may be looking for something a little different with a bit more heft will have to seek it out on their own." - PopMatters

"Not since Joe's My Name is Joe has the title of an r&b album been more accurate than Monica's sixth studio album Still Standing. Let's review. After breaking onto the national stage at the tender age of fifteen, Monica became an unqualified success, selling over three million copies of her debut album Miss Thang. The sky was the limit for the blossoming superstar, but a series of personal tragedies - the suicide of her boyfriend, the incarceration of her fiancée C-Murder and a plethora of other personal setbacks worthy of a telenovela - were reflected in her inconsistent musical output over the early part of the past decade. Now, nearly six years after her last album, the sweet young girl we watched duel Brandy for a boy is now very much a woman. A woman who has faced more tragedy in ten years than most people see in a lifetime. A woman who has overcome. A woman who is still standing.

It can be extraordinarily difficult for an artist to achieve true success after years away from the spotlight, so Monica has a long way to go if she wants to make it back to the top, but fortunately she sounds more than prepared for the journey. While Still Standing certainly has some potential hits, it's first and foremost a deeply personal and soulful album. An album that's unlikely to attract legions of new fans, but should grab longtime fans and not let go, and over the long run that's exactly the kind of music that will last an artist a lifetime. If this album is any indication, there's no reason Monica won't still be standing for a long time to come.

This might feel a little soulless, but in today's musical climate a smash single is more valuable than ever, so we might as well start thing off with Still Standing's more radio ready material, starting with the album's most recent single Everything to Me. Produced by Missy Elliott, who reaches into her soul playbook for a classic r&b jam, Everything to Me showcases Monica's gospel roots as she delivers a dynamically hypnotizing vocal performance. Ok, bad example. Maybe I should have gone with Missy's other contribution If You Were My Man, a bouncing and 80s influenced track that notably features a somewhat unfortunate quasi-rap from Monica. It's the album's most openly upbeat track, and it does briefly elevate Still Standing's mood, but I still can't see it gaining serious spins. Maybe the title track Still Standing will launch the album into the stratosphere. After all, it does contain a Ludacris verse... and unflinchingly powerful vocals from Monica... and inspiring lyrics. Maybe not.

Actually, now that I think about it, there really aren't any overt attempts to conquer the mainstream charts on Still Standing. Not only is there nary a club song to be found, but the aforementioned Luda is the album's sole guest. Instead, Monica has made a deeply, deeply personal album full of tracks like the darkly intense Mirror, a track that women everywhere - real women - should be able to relate to, and be inspired by (shades of Mary J. Blige anyone?). While Here I Am's intentions may not be as admirable as Mirror, Monica is revenge cheating on her man, it's an extraordinary example of her development as a singer. She knows just when to hold back and when to unleash the powerhouse notes, a musical wisdom that only comes from experience. I'm listening to it as I write these words, and I'm officially announcing that Here I Am's my favorite song on the album. It's official. But these tracks are still really only the tip of the sonic iceberg. Once In a Lifetime is the album's purest love song, Love All Over Me proves that Monica's a more powerful singer than she sometimes gets credit for (at times she sounds like a pre-Bobby Whitney Houston) and Believing In Me is an acoustic ode to moving beyond heartbreak. These tracks may not be perfect, but they're honest, and the blend of vulnerability and strength Monica displays on Still Standing is precisely what makes it stand above the crowd.

So, ultimately, what does Still Standing mean for Monica? While the album may not have blown you away by the time Monica's last note has faded, I frankly don't see how anyone could claim to be an r&b fan and not at the very least enjoy this album. Monica has done more than simply stand. She's triumphed, and I recommend you celebrate with her." - DJBooth

Album Reviews:

Entertainment Weekly (p.69) - "[A]n assured album that seems entirely unconcerned with staying current....A low-key delight." -- Grade: B+

Album Notes

Recording information: Atlanta, GA; Carrington House, Atlanta, GA; Doppler Studios; Germano Studios, New York, NY; Goldmind Studios, NJ; Johntà's Crib, Atlanta, GA; No Excuses Studios, Santa Monica, CA; Panic Room Studios, Miami, FL; Solitaire Studios, Atlanta, GA; SouthSide Studios, Atlanta, GA; Sphere Studios, London, UK; Studio At The Palms, Las Vegas, NV; The Black Room; The Taning Booth, Soapbox Studios, Atlanta, GA.

Photographers: Derek Blanks; Tony Duran .

Still Standing's title track was issued as a single weeks prior to Monica's BET reality series of the same name, which debuted in October 2009. Even though the song is a potent, low-profile anthem akin to a grown-up and feminized spin on T.I.'s "What You Know," it topped out in the 70s of the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The album seemed like it might be dead well before release until "Everything to Me" -- based on Deniece Williams' 1981 quiet storm "Silly" -- trailed in February and was in the Top Ten within a month, significantly raising the profile for Monica's fifth album. Some fans will be irritated that it took Monica three-and-a-half years to follow up a ten-song album with a set of equally brief length, but Still Standing benefits from quality control and a handful of particularly strong ballads. If the album is missing anything, it's the sharp and casual wrath last dealt in "Sideline Ho." Instead, we get her singing different lyrics over Evelyn King's similarly cautionary and aggressive "Betcha She Don't Love You" for "If You Were My Man" (like "Everything to Me," a collaboration with Missy Elliott and the ever-undervalued Jazmine Sullivan), so it's really not that much of a problem. ~ Andy Kellman


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