Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mariah Carey ~ Me. I am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse (Track by track album review)

The long-delayed 14th album from Mariah Carey, “Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse”, has been finally unveiled. 


The soul-baring ballad echoes Carey’s earlier album cuts like "Vanishing". But the dreary nature of the lyrical content and dull melody make one yearn for the poetic brilliance of her “Butterfly” album. Even when she tries to score the gold with the complex vocal gymnastics towards the end, it is not an easy song to get fond of instantly. Besides, if Carey claims that this album is about her life in the last three years, which saw a happy marriage, gorgeous twins and 18 million dollars she pocketed for judging American Idol, what and who is she singing about in this tearjerker then? 


The freshest cut on the set, thanks to the producer of the moment, Mike Will Made It (responsible for Rihanna and Miley Cyrus’s recent hits). At times, “Faded” sounds a bit like her number one smash “Don’t Forget About Us” and could easily fit in well with the rest of the songs on her “Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel” album. The synth hook played all throughout the track is haunting and suitable for this mid-tempo ballad about ‘a lover that has vanished’.   

“Dedicated” (Featuring Nas)

A throwback that brings back the 90's where Carey pioneered the rap-sung collarbo trend with her number one hits like “Fantasy”, “Honey” or “Heartbreaker”. The classic Carey cooing over rap verses or signature whistle notes doing the scale in the background, plus the infectious “la-di-da-di-da” chorus are all here. With “Dedicated”, not only does she pay homage to old-school Hip-hop/Rn’B but also flip a middle finger to the EDM trend that is dominating the airwaves nowadays. Carey is at ease when she gets to do what she does well.

“#Beautiful” (Featuring Miguel) 

The top 15 hit “#Beautiful”, if promoted properly, could have easily been her 19th number one. Carey has proven once again that her knack for writing catchy choruses is no fluke. It is also one of those rare occasions where Carey shows restraint avoiding her usual vocal embellishments and instead letting the simple sensual melody take the center stage. Even after a year of release, #Beautiful is still a standout track. No heavy lifting involved, this bouncy ballad offers a little dose of summer romance that no one could refuse. 


Sure, Carey warbling “You’re thirsty- you’re thirsty” is cringe-worthy and perhaps more fitting for a Pepsi cola ad. But hey, try not being too cynical for a moment, the song’s hypnotising beats might turn you a bobble-head. In truth, “Thirsty” could have been a hit, if it was released 15 years ago. Now it just feels like wearing a jacket that is no longer in fashion. Even when “Instagram” is mentioned at some point in the song, it just sounds dated, baby! But does she really care?  Because it genuinely seems Carey is quenching her thirst for this type of music by coming up with one song after another. Queen of shade throwing, Carey could also be cooking up her old recipe with this Hip-hop number, which by the way is about a lover who’s out of touch with reality, thirsty for fame. Her Eminem diss, “Obsessed” comes to mind. 

“Make It Look Good”

The Motown-flavored, harmonica-driven, Doo-Wop laced “Make It Look Good” sees Carey chirping about a loverboy who makes her go "I just wanna taste of what you got but my mama always told me not to play with those players who play you". All efforts are appreciated (including Stevie Wonder's harmonica solo) but this would have been more convincing if Ariana Grande was singing it. It’s a little age-impropriate. Besides, the Jermaine Dupri production is a tad too tired and dismissible. 

“You’re Mine (Eternal)”

Rodney Jerkins’ production is sleek but somehow weak. Simplistic melody and juvenile lyrics fit more for a singer like Katy Perry. A 45-year-old singing, “Boy, you make me feel, our love would never end. How can I forget, baby we were the best” makes one wonder if the song is targeted for the Middle School audience for their first official Valentine’s day. But then again, which Middle school kid these days would follow Carey on Twitter or LIKE her Facebook page, let alone buy this record? #TotesConfused. On a positive note though, "You re mine” begins with pleasingly husky low notes, then exhibits her rich mid-range (where her current voice shines brightest) and finally unleashes a mammoth belted note which masterfully merges into whistle register, sustained till eternity. What a wondrous thing to hear (even if it was doctored to perfection in the lab)

You don’t know what to do” (Featuring Whale)

It’s not always gold when Jermaine Dupri and Carey get together and attempt to make hits. Definitely not as of late (“Triumphant”, anyone?) and the last time the duo had a hit was almost a decade ago. However the drought may have come to an end with “You Don’t Know What To Do”. The shimmering five-star disco throwback is the best of the bunch. Donna Summer-esque soaring intro accompanied only by a piano, spellbinding pre-chorus followed by the chorus so wicked, playful rap solo by Whale and the rousing outro spell G.O.L.D or better yet, P.L.A.T.I.N.U.M, if they decide to release it as the next single. Put your dancing shoes on. Saturday Night Fever is going to hit, y'all. 


Chuckles of her adorable twins adorn the lullaby-like “Supernatural”. The unusual  composition also finds Carey’s daughter, Monroe, singing a hook. Like mother, like daughter. Not so sure if Blue Ivy can do that yet?  But the game is on. Look out for the epic key change that only Mariah could do, riding high flying right into the stratosphere.


Either this is the ultimatum from her record label or rather a calculative move from her side, which is to feature at least one dance song that is radio-friendly. The Daft Punk-ish “Meteorite” is a Q-tip production,  an odd inclusion on this set. Moreover, Carey seems a bit detached from hypothetically inspirational, yet profoundly tedious lyrics, “You know what you are. It’s true. You will go far cause’ you got the night to light up the sky”. It’s also not certain whether she’s mocking or cheering for those enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. 


Carey’s hardcore fans know and adore her autobiographical album cuts such as “Petals”, “I am free”, “Twister” or “Lookin’ In” – the melancholy “Camouflage” starts out promising but unfortunately ends up a tad too messy due to the ostentatious vocal arrangement. A not-so-united choir of Mariahs harmonizing, wailing, delivering messages, hitting high whistles from all directions- now that’s an overkill. 

“Money” (featuring Fabolous)

Many solid tracks on this album happen to be the up-tempo ones. Hitboy-produced “Money”, like “Dedicated” is yet another throwback Hip-Hop R&B track where Carey rides the charismatic chorus like it’s a Maserati. What matters here is that she sounds carefree and convincing. At this stage in her career, she has nothing more to prove. She might as well make the type of music she loves and relish the experience. That’s why, though she sings “Money, this, that, the other don’t mean nothing”, “Money” is definitely money baby! 

“One More Try”

Almost every Mariah Carey album carries a Schmaltzy cover of a well-known song – The fans of George Michael’s earnest vocal delivery that renders angst and ache will find it difficult to accept Carey’s smooth syrupy update. However, Carey’s version of “One More Try” sounds current and cohesive, while not straying too far from the original arrangement. Carey certainly doesn’t disappoint, providing an abundant showcase of smoky low notes, impressive octave leaps, intentional vocal cracks and melismatic vocal runs although her upper range is now getting thin and as a result, a bit shrieky.

“Heavenly (No Ways Tired/Can't Give Up Now)”

Carey’s approach to Gospel has always been subtle and therefore relatable– without mentioning or praising the man above excessively but usually letting an inspirational message be the highlight of her song. “There will be mountains that I will have to climb, and there will be battles that I will have to fight. But victory or defeat, it’s up to me to decide, but how can I expect to win if I never try?” It’s Gospel so she certainly is not going to hold back. In fact she sings her face off reaching the heavens and above. Her heartfelt delivery on this stirring number takes us all to church.

Even the most gifted photographers can’t ignore the power of Photoshop. Likewise, the perfectionist Carey may have played with her vocals in the studio. Many of her high notes may have been pitch-corrected, stretched slightly longer or executed flawlessly. They are far too perfect just like her heavily airbrushed album artwork. While "The Elusive Chanteuse" is the diva's weakest album lyrically, in the vocal department, she has yet again raised the bar incredibly highThat of course raises the question - how will she perform these songs live?  It is safe to bet that she may perform them live but lip-sync the difficult parts as she has been so for the last 12 years. After all, people may bitch about lip-syncing or a bad performance, they forgive and forget as time goes by. But the records, yep, her platinum records, are forever.

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