[7 July 2014]
So. Here it is: Mariah’s New Album. (I’m pretty sure you’ll get what I just did there.) I never have high hopes for a Mariah album. That’s not because she can’t sing or because she can’t do a great album. It’s because there is always a point in every single Mariah album post-2000 which leaves me thinking: Why, oh why? Mariah has the extremely annoying tendency to over-sing a song. If she doesn’t do that, she devotes herself to a song that was absolutely pointless. Her last album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, managed to do fairly well due to its lead single, “Obsessed”. However, the singles from this album haven’t even half the status that “Obsessed” did. “Triumphant” doesn’t even appear on the track list, despite being the first single. Second time round, though, she opted for arguably one of the safest tracks on the album, “#Beautiful”, which features Miguel.
But don’t mistake safe for boring. Rather, it serves up a renewed Mariah by throwing her into a mid-tempo track that sees her hold her own with that ever trusty whistle register without dwelling on it. The best tracks on the album force her to complement the producer helmed for the track or the person that was chosen to feature. Take, for example, “Money ($ * / …)”, which features Fabolous. To the average person that wouldn’t take even a slight interest in Mariah, the song probably would come off as album filler. However, for anyone else, this is a classic example of Mariah at her best: being present enough to register but not too present to outweigh the person featuring. Fabolous doesn’t do the best job in terms of lyrics (I ain’t got no beef but when I do I’m goin’ fillet it) but he still has more than enough involvement to stay relevant while Mariah uses her windpipes to sing about the most important things in life to her, including chefs, holidays, and hollandaise. But the best thing about the track is that it sounds refreshingly dated. That might sound like a juxtaposition, but it’s good to hear Mariah hark back to the form of R&B that existed in the ‘90s. A simple horn melody with a laid-back groove is just what the doctor ordered for Mimi.
On that note, there is a fair amount of mid-tempo R&B on the album that defies the sea of EDM and pop flooding the urban radio airwaves. Apart from the aforementioned, there is also “Dedicated”, which features a lot of talking, some corny singing at the end, and a great verse from Nas. Lyrically, the song addresses a past lover that Mariah reminisces. Nas, however, is smart enough to help her reference hip-hop in 1988. The song really settles into a great standout from the moment it starts. Mike Will Made It pops up on “Faded”. This sounds like a bad idea, but it is well executed. Mariah does a great job of sounding modern, but she does ruin it slightly by over-singing on the second verse (see: that annoying ad-lib thing she does) and by leaving the song on a cliff hanger by ending it on a high note. Plus, although the production is welcome, it is rather indistinguishable from anything she’s done within the last ten years with Jermaine Dupri and Tricky Stewart.
The deluxe edition holds the key to a rather surprising duet with Mary J Blige, entitled “It’s a Wrap”. The song flourishes with neither singer (both of which are clearly capable of not being outshined) singing about their cheating partner without sounding mechanical or devoid of personality. The most energetic track, though, is “You Don’t Know What to Do”, with Mariah and Wale (yes, you read right, Wale!) singing about an indecisive mate. While the disco production and Wale do their part to keep the momentum, it’s Miss Carey who shines through due to rather skillful songwriting (who uses the word ‘immortalized’ in any song anymore?) and genuine harmonies that remind you of a seventies dance floor hit.
On the ballad side, Mariah still manages to pull through the album with enough dignity, although this time around she doesn’t feel as bothered about the fact it sounds so much cheesier than ever before. The extremely saccharine “Supernatural”, which features her two children, is a prime example of poor ideas executed even worse. Her children just sound like they’ve been sampled as opposed to being part of the collective. I wonder if they’ll get any royalties. Other examples include “Camouflage”, which has Mariah going through the same ropes she went through on “Faded” and “You’re Mine (Eternal)”, which should never have been a single in the first place; it falls flat and ends up sounding like a retread of “We Belong Together”. That doesn’t mean to say that she can’t sing ballads anymore: “Cry” Is the first song you come across on the album and it is just somber. But that’s the amazing part; she can sing a ballad with so much pain without sounding forced. When it is done right, you cannot fault the elusive chanteuse. It’s slow-burning and does what a Mariah ballad should do in that it has big finish, very little in the way of production apart from a piano, lyrics about a sad situation, and those beautiful whistle notes. Nothing about the opener is boring or a faux-pas in any way. Elsewhere, she does everything to keep her cover of George Michael’s “One More Try” alive, although it just becomes monotonous and the one time she decides to take a brave step into untouched territory with ‘80s-style pop with “Meteorite”, everything is shot down in flames from the get-go.
On the whole, though, it’s such a shame she can’t get enough people excited about this album. Me. I am Mariah: The Elusive Chanteuse is not a bad album and deserves a lot more traction than it already has. That doesn’t mean to say it is without faults. It just means that she isn’t an elusive singer. She’s just a comfortable one, and that’s a good thing for her. She doesn’t need to be, nor should she ever be elusive. This album proves that in spades. In all honesty, she is Mariah: The Extremely Capable Chateuse.