'Me. I Am Mariah...': Carey's Best Album Since 1997
By Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 5/30/2014 (Issue 2222 - Between The Lines News)
With the glorious powerhouse "Vanishing," off her star-making 1990 debut, Mariah Carey couldn't have known she'd be foreshadowing another release some 25 years later. "If I could recapture all of the memories, bring them to life," Carey sang, with all the fierceness of a diva-in-the-making, "surely I would."
Two-plus decades, one messy breakdown and 13 albums later, she has.
Insanely titled but undeniably a vision of love, "Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse" (grade: A-), her oft-delayed, punctuation-zealous 14th release, revels in those memories and throws back to her '90s pinnacle, when The Voice was front and center, when "Glitter" wasn't a career punchline.
Encompassing the vintage timelessness that carried her to notoriety, while also staying true to her urban evolution, Mariah's found her sweet spot on "The Elusive Chanteuse," turning out an accomplished body of work - her best since 1997's "Butterfly." Listen to it in succession, because it's also her most cohesive set since then. These ditties, however, are the ones that'll have you feelin' major emotions:
Remember those curls? The all-black attire? A piano and little else? Singing like it's 1990 again on this stunning lead-in, you can almost see her: It's Mariah, alone and fully clothed atop a stool, pouring her heart out all over the stage - her hand, of course, flailing up and over and everywhere as the organ gusts into a soulful belter. And then, with that last bittersweet note, her head tilts back in a dramatic show of confidence. She just nailed it, and she knows it.
'Dedicated' (feat. Nas)
Talk about old-school - actually, Mariah will. And she'll do so with bestie/collaborator Nas. Like they're hanging in Mimi's crib and having #TBT time over a bottle of Cristal, the two friends reminisce on days gone by (and on Pee-wee Herman) with this breezy R&B groove - you know, "just for the nostalgia." Meta in the sense that it salutes the past on an album that essentially does the same, Carey's serving up some serious late '90s honey.
'#Beautiful' (feat. Miguel)
Released a year ago as the album's first single, it's a travesty that the sexy-chic ear-worm "#Beautiful" didn't chart higher than No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. With a Motown-inspired guitar groove, its chill summer sensibility and the perfect pairing of Miguel with Mariah - exalting tingles as she goes from coo to croon - this should have been Carey's 19th No. 1 single.
'Make It Look Good'
Flow-y and unfussy, this swaying charmer is a sonic daydream. Stevie Wonder opens with a spirited harmonica solo, which follows Carey through the hook - a flirty chorus with a delicious "lips / hip / dip" rhyme. Note how effortless and relaxed she sounds. No longer as concerned with keeping up with girls half her age, it's the most laid back Mariah's been since "The Emancipation of Mimi."
'You Don't Know What to Do' (feat. Wale)
Stand back. Mariah's at the mic, and she's having a moment. Wale, who has the nerve to mumble over her aggressive "don't mess with Mimi" intro, can't even wreak havoc on her divadom. Rousing the cheerful airiness of her pop-dance staples - this potential hit triggers flashbacks of "Fantasy" with Ol' Dirty Bastard - "You Don't Know What to Do" is a rush of splashy panache that you'll be bumping to the next time you lace up your roller skates.
You just know Donna Summer is smiling down on this club-lite romp. Casting an ethereal dreaminess on '70s dance, this Andy Warhol-inspired fame musing is as sparkly as the disco ball you'll be losing yourself under. With a sample of Eddie Kendricks' '76 jam "Goin' Up in Smoke," Q-Tip arranges the dance-chic aura as Mariah targets celebrity culture - perhaps her own waggling career - with an ambitious-but-cautionary outlook.
'One More Try'
She can't live if living is without a sentimental showstopper, the kind she knows the "lambs" - her hardcore fans - love to loop until their eyes are completely wrung out. Enter George Michael. A wise cover choice for Carey, it assists in recapturing her classic sound. It does so by honoring Michael's original while also supplementing it with a gospel tinge and those layered-vocal embellishments of hers. Ever wonder what it sounds like when a throng of angels sings to you? Listen to that bridge.
'Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can't Give Up Now)'
Hop on Mimi's butterfly wings for this gospel rouser - she takes you all the way to the heavens. Sampling an inspirational sermon given by Rev. James Cleveland (unusual, maybe, but it works), she eases into this empowerment credo - acknowledging that, yes, "it's been a little rough" - that soars higher and higher. Escalating into a spiritual soul shaker with key climbs and whistle notes, the closer will have you bowing your head and hollering "amen."Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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