Listening to the opening stretch of Growing Pains with those stats in mind, it's hard not to wonder 'Why her?' One of Blige's greatest moments came when she "celebrated no more drama in our life" with a "great track pumpin'" on 2001 single 'Family Affair', but, at this stage in the game, she just doesn't convince as a party-starter. 'Work That', the album's opening track, and 'Just Fine', its lead single, are filled with glossy, early eighties synths, hard-edged beats and gushingly positive sentiments (she salutes her re-emerging self esteem on the former, her newfound contentment on the latter), but, from Blige, they sound forced and stilted. As her recent single 'Hold It Don't Drop It' proves, J. Lo does this kind of thing better. Blige's baby-making cuts are equally unconvincing – Pharrell Williams' 'Till The Morning' contains as much sexual heat as Ann Widdecombe's bed linen, while 'Shake Down', a slushy duet with Usher, is utterly devoid of chemistry.
But then, around half way through, Growing Pains finds its feet - ironically, as soon as Blige walks them off the dancefloor for a nice sit-down. 'Roses', a dark anti-love song on which Blige declares that romance "ain't all flowers and posin'", is tremendous; she sounds wounded, angry and, in all honesty, like an incredibly difficult woman to live with, but we're suddenly reminded that she's capable of singing the roof off a barn when she wants to. Almost as good is 'Smoke', whose cascading piano riffs and live, rocky drums offer a tantalising glimpse of what a Blige/Coldplay studio session might produce.
Needless to say, Blige is in familiar territory here, but, as she has a near-breakdown over a rubbery, Chic-y bassline on 'Fade Away', and brings real dignity to the hackneyed lyrics of 'What Love Is' - "beautiful, horrible, magical, terrible" is the best description Blige, 36 now, can come up with - it all falls into place. Why her? Because nobody else can channel her insecurities into something so effortlessly, compellingly commercial.