It has been nearly 5 years since Mariah Carey‘s last studio album Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel which received a great deal of critical praise but was ultimately the singer’s worst performing album commercially. During the time that has passed, Mariah has further explored her acting career (Precious, The Butler) , released a follow-up to her best-selling Christmas Album (Merry Christmas II You), had a brief stint as a judge on Fox’s American Idol and welcomed the birth of fraternal twins Moroccan and Monroe (Dem Babies) with her husband Nick Cannon. In August of 2012, Carey announced that she had returned to the studio to work on her 14th album which eventually received a release date for July of 2013. What followed was a series of album delays and singles that had virtually no impact on the charts (with the exception of “#Beautiful” featuring Miguel which peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100). Additionally, Carey underwent a change in management and a misleading publication created a sense of confusion over the method for which the album would be released. It seemed as though, nobody truly knew what direction the project was going or when it would actually come to fruition. Finally, the album received a concrete release date, title, and tracklisting. Everything finally began to appear as though it was falling into place. On May 27th, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse was finally released and it is clear that it was worth the wait. Although at this point in her nearly 25-year long career it is no longer necessary, Mariah Carey has once again proven the level of talent and artistry that goes into her work and ultimately reminds us of the reason the world initially fell in love with her: Her Voice.
Through this carefully crafted body of work, Mariah takes us on a journey that encompasses elements of not only the past few years of her life but of those that have ultimately shaped her into the woman she has become. One thing is clear throughout the album: Mariah has honed and perfected a formula and truly knows what works best for her. Teaming up with long time collaborators such as Jermaine Dupri and Bryan Michael Cox she once again brings a variety of songs ranging from Hip-Hop infused tracks to ballads reminiscent of her earlier work. In fact, elements of her prior efforts are ever-present throughout the album. Through her melismatic phrasing, signature five-octave range, complex harmonies and undeniable ability to wrap an emotion in a lyric, Mariah delivers arguably her best musical effort since The Emancipation of Mimi.
The opening song of the album helps to set the tone for what what is to come. The heavily piano-driven ballad provides us with a few of Mariah’s signature full out belting moments but is overall a poised and restrained vocal performance for the diva who sings about longing to resolve issues with her lover (who has been equally hurt in the equation) through embracing one another until they “both break down and cry”. The lyrics are both heartbreaking and beautiful. The focus on vocals and lack of overproduction creates a true sense of sincerity.
This Mike Will Made-It produced track (that manages to stay true to Mariah’s signature sound)is a mid-tempo ballad that details a relationship that seemingly begun to dim and fade away despite attempts to make things work out. The background vocals act as a constant percussive element throughout the track.
Dedicated (feat. Nas)
A truly nostalgic moment of the album, the track serves as an ode to old school Hip Hop. In addition to a verse from Nas, singer James Fauntleroy harmonizes with Mariah’s vocals. The song (which is the first of 3 songs produced by Hit-Boy) references Hip Hop greats like Slick Rick, Eric B, Run DMC and Wu-Tang Clan and creates the image of a bunch old friends hanging out and reflecting on the importance of music from the past and how it shaped their lives. In fact, you can hear them conversing about their most nostalgic hip hop moments in the background. The concept behind the song is genius and the production while current in sound, manages to create an old school vibe.
#Beautiful (feat. Miguel)
While this song was released last year (and has gone on to become a platinum-selling single), it truly takes a new life in the context of the album. The retro rustic-sounding song about two lovers who find beauty in each other simply makes sense in the mix of all of the other songs.
“You thirsty for a dream, leaving me drowning, Boy there ain’t no SOS” sings Mariah on this Hit-Boy produced track about her lover who seemingly is “thirsty” for his new found self-proclaimed celebrity which he enjoys because of her. It is probably her most scathing track since 2009’s “Obsessed”. Yikes! Is she talking about you Nick Cannon?! Probably not, but it’s always fun to imagine. The track may remind you of Jay-Z & Kanye’s “N*ggas In Paris” which is likely due to the length of time that it took to complete the album meaning it was possibly recorded around the release of that song. It was also produced by Hit-boy and encompasses one of his signature sounds.
Make It Look Good
With an updated Old School/Doo Wop vibe and Stevie Wonder on the harmonica this track details Mariah’s willingness to deal with a player despite being warned not to.The song is lyrically fun and clearly meant to be silly.
You’re Mine (Eternal)
Another track previously released as a single, that is truly strengthened by its presence among the other songs of the album. The track which was co-written/co-produced by Rodney Jerkins is similar to “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us” due to its lyrics of longing for a lover who she can’t seem to let go of. In true Mariah fashion, the song climaxes and ends with a big finish.
You Don’t Know What To Do (feat. Wale)
This song sounds like a revival of disco (similar to that of songs by artists such as Daft Punk and Justin Timberlake). Enlisting DC Native rapper Wale (who samples an Ol’ Dirty Bastard line in his rap), the singer kicks her man to the curb because he simply doesn’t know how to give her what she needs. This up-tempo song is perfect for summer and offers up some great vocal moments.
Supernatural (with special guest stars “Dembabies” a.k.a. Ms. Monroe & Mr. Moroccan Scott Cannon a.k.a. Roc ‘N Roe)
“Beautiful as you lay, all my tears dissipate ‘Cause our love is supernatural…”
This is hands down the most heart warming song of the album. One thing that Mariah has made clear is her love for her children whom she affectionately calls “Dem Babies” and it is evident with this track. Not only are the voices of Roc ‘N Roe featured on the song but they also make their singing debut (with Ms. Monroe’s singing featured more prominently). You can feel the mutual love through the lyrics and interaction that is shared between the mother and her children on the track. Be warned this one is a major “AWWW” moment and for some, might be a tear-jerker.
The Q- Tip produced song opens with a quote from Andy Warhol about how everyone will achieve world fame for 15 minutes. Mariah offers her commentary on the culture of celebrity throughout this track that ties into the “chanteuse” theme because she sounds as though she is performing in a night club.
Another ballad focused on Carey’s voice and the piano, this song presents a more vulnerable side of Mariah as she asks her lover for confirmation that he still cares for her. The harmonies and strong background vocals only enhance the message of the song. Purely another example of the balladry that she has become known for.
Money ($ * / …)” (feat. Fabolous)
Opening with “I Can’t leave it like that…” (in reference to the heavy feeling one may be left with after listening to the preceding track), this Hit-boy produced track features rapper Fabolous and is essentially your “love don’t cost a thing/ money doesn’t matter without you” type track. It is cleverly tucked between a few of the albums big ballads to provide one last upbeat, feel-good type song before bringing it home.
One Last Try
Over the years covering classic songs has become a bit of a tradition for Mariah Carey. “Without You” (Original recorded by Badfinger), “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” (Def Leopard), “I’ll be there” (The Jackson 5), and “I Want to Know What Love Is” (Foreigner) are just a few of the songs to receive the Mariah treatment in the past. While the original (recorded by George Michael) is a pure classic, Mariah certainly does it justice in the gospel-tinged, soulful rendition and of course manages to make it her own with those signature whistle notes.
And in continuing with maintaining “tradition” Mariah closes her album with a spiritual, gospel song (something which was noticeably absent from her last her album). Backed by a gospel choir, Mariah brings the album full circle with this song. Most people are probably familiar with the version of “Can’t Give Up” recorded by Mary Mary and though Mariah follows a similar format, she truly makes it her own with the added “No Ways Tired” portion of the song. It is truly a “come to Jesus” moment and the finale is vocally phenomenal.
Despite all of the setbacks leading up to the release of Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, it is truly a remarkable body of work and rises up to what we have come to expect from Mariah Carey. In promoting the album she stated that if this were her last album, she would want the listener to be left feeling as though she said everything that needed to be said. With this album she has certainly made her statement clear and once again proven that when people attempt to count her out or discredit her they simply have to count her back in. Well done, Mariah!
What are some of your favorite tracks on the album?