Mariah Carey, ‘Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
Mariah Carey is a lot of things -- talented, beautiful, successful, rich, adored -- but when has she ever been elusive? Never. Even after she released the lukewarm post-breakdown LP ‘Charmbracelet,' her subsequent absence until the release of ‘The Emancipation of Mimi’ was still spent dabbling in chart-topping features with rappers like Busta Rhymes and Jadakiss. She married and divorced Tommy Mottolla, dated Derek Jeter and Latin pop star Luis Miguel, and out of the blue married Nick Cannon. Her personal life and artistic side have been too publicly consumed for the word elusive to come close to describing her. But, the fact that she refers to herself as such is what Mariah Carey is all about: irony and a touch of comedy. Let’s not forget ‘Touch My Body.’
Her 14th album, ‘Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse,’ was delayed for close to two years and even went through a title change -- ‘The Art of Letting Go.' The post-pregnancy single ‘Triumphant,’ featuring Rick Ross and Meek Mill, fell absolutely flat on the charts in 2012, missing the Billboard 100 completely. For a Mariah lead single, that miss was unheard of up until that point.
Thankfully, '#Beautiful,' the duet with Grammy winner Miguel came to us last summer. The track was a familiar, yet very new, way for Mariah to become fully embraced into today’s radio landscape. Mariah vocal duets (sans remixes) are few, a club of which only Whitney Houston, Usher, Trey Lorenz, Luther Vandross, Brian McKnight, and Joe are a part of. '#Beautiful' was a contagious track that sat very well with Mariah’s propensity for catchy and breezy melodies reminiscent to her comeback, ‘We Belong Together.’ The song peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard charts. Even then, the album’s November 2013 release was pushed into 2014.
Watch Mariah Carey's '#Beautiful' Video Feat. Miguel
The official second single, ‘You’re Mine (Eternal),’ a slow ballad barely cracked the Billboard 100 at No. 88. At that point, it seemed nothing was going to stop the release of the 14th album. During an interview with Billboard in March, Mariah hinted at dropping the album as a surprise release, the same way Beyonce had done with her fourth self-titled album in December 2013. Her record label quickly scraped any notion of that by stating the project would receive a traditional pre-release marketing plan. The whole thing just didn’t look promising.
In that same Billboard interview, Mariah seemed extremely pressed to give off the idea that she was creating an overly cohesive body of work, which was odd because it’s safe to say she's always done just that. With a listen to ‘Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse’ one might deduce that what the songstress really meant was that there isn’t a radio hit on the album, and that's not a bad thing.
‘Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse’ is a more artistically-developed version of ‘The Emancipation of Mimi.’ The material is more emotionally driven than it is focused on opulent spending and stuntin’. For example, ‘Supernatural’ features her twin children laughing and singing throughout the record. Thanks to Carey’s lack of elusiveness, lyrics like, “Our love is supernatural / Actually I’m for sure it’s forever,” carry less of a naïve romantic tone and are filled with certainty and maturity.
The album even opens with the gospel-heavy track ‘Cry.’ It’s the kind of song that’s usually reserved for the album closer, but there’s a tone to be set with Carey singing, “I didn’t leave much between us that day and maybe I shouldn’t have told you I loved you.” Get ready for an emotional ride. The piano-based tracks are reminiscent of Mariah’s early ballads and are revisited again near the end of the album with ‘Camouflage,’ a track replete with all that fans love about he chanteuse as she sings, “Didn’t I give you all of me?” She also pulls from her repertory arsenal by including a remake of an '80s classic with ‘One More Try,’ a remake of George Michael’s 1988 single.
Mike WiLL Made It continues his ascendance as a premiere producer and joins in with ‘Faded,’ an easy-flowing R&B song that fits in perfectly with any of the songs in 2002’s ‘Charmbracelet’ and 2010’s ‘Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel.’ It’s angst-filled as Mariah sings, “You’re just an echo a whisper in my ear / But in the morning you’re not here / So intangible...” While ‘Cry’ might be track one, ‘Faded’ is the soft launch into Mariah’s more polished approach into urban music.
When the remix to ‘Fantasy,’ which featured Ol’ Dirty Bastard, became a monster hit in the late '90s, the hip-hop side of ‘The Elusive Chanteuse’ became too good for Mariah Carey to ever leave behind. This time around, she enlists producer Hit-Boy for two star rap features with Nas (‘Dedicated’) and Fabolous (‘Money’). The results are top-down-ready hip-hop infused tracks that are the catchiest distant cousins of ‘It’s Like That.’ ‘Dedicated’ contains a small introduction that has Nas reminiscing about hip-hop’s older days before it drops into a sample of Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,’ bringing Mariah’s own career with hip-hop full circle.
Disco and soul also make strong presences on the new album. Stevie Wonder himself galvanizes the soulful groove of ‘Make It Look Good’ with a harmonica feature, making the track is hard to forget. ‘Meteorite,’ heavily influenced by disco, is truly one of the album’s standouts. For new listeners, the track will serve as an expansion to Mariah’s slow jams. For long-time stans, it will serve as a kicked-up version of her ‘Daydream Interlude’ and ‘Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise).’
The best track on the album, bar none, serves almost as a personal redemption for the ill received ‘Glitter' soundtrack. The Wale-assisted 'You Don’t Know What io Do' is also a disco affair that’s incredibly difficult to resist. Its biggest fault, for some, might be the piano introduction that highly resembles Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive.’ Most surprisingly, the track thrusts Wale into a Top 40 realm that, until know, never suited him. With that said, the track, with its extremely infectious sound, doesn’t provide Mariah with a sure-fire radio hit single. It could very well be the dark horse that becomes the summer anthem, which makes it even better.
Any mention of Mariah’s newly-released music serves as a reference to her extensive catalog, which include albums like ‘Daydream,’ ‘Butterfly’ and ‘The Emancipation of Mimi’ -- all albums that either heightened in popularity during the summer months or relied heavily on the playful, lustful and romantic nature of the season. ‘Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse’ joins in on those magnum opuses, which, in retrospect, turns out to be perfect for all seasons.
Watch Mariah Carey Perform 'You Don't Know What to Do' with Wale