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The next chapter in Mariah Carey‘s career was slightly troubled, but still successful despite the changes of the industry. She had a tough start in the beginning of the new millennium, but eventually she overcame the negative publicity and became more fun and confident than ever before. There are lots of fans who still wish the “Old” Mariah would come back, without any rappers and strictly singing Pop ballads. For me, this next crop of albums really show off her personality and who she actually is as a person. She’s humorous and silly at times, she loves her Hip Hop and R&B oldies, and “eternally 12” like she always jokes. It’s a great contrast to the often calculated staleness of her old Pop ballad days, but we still got amazing vocals and songwriting whether people want to acknowledge that or not. Here is my overview of this “New” Mariah and her most recent albums.
Let’s just forget about the disaster of a film “Glitter“, as Mariah herself tries to do. The film was ambitious and had heart, it just didn’t work out on any level. The 80’s influenced movie soundtrack however was a great slice of fun and nostalgia and an overall enjoyable album. She samples classic 80’s hits like “Funkin’ for Jamaica” and Cameo’s “Candy”, she remakes “Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” and “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”, and gives off serious Prince vibes in “Want You”. To balance it out, you get some great ballads like “Lead the Way” and “Never Too Far” to appease her power ballad fans (and potentially get an Oscar nomination for Best Song). It’s a well balanced and fun album, and you can tell Mariah had fun recording and reminiscing over the material. There’s a point where the features get a little heavy handed, and that’s really the albums only downfall. For instance, the “DJ Saved My life” cover is almost unbearable thanks to Busta Rhymes and DJ Clue’s constant shouting over her vocals. Still it’s an overall upbeat album that was sorely underrated, had it not accompanied the film it might have faired better.
Grade: B- Best: Didn’t Mean to Turn You On, Lead the Way, If We
Coming off the professional disaster of “Glitter”, and the personal breakdown shortly following that films release, “Charmbracelet” was sort of an awkward moment for the Diva. She was coming back to the industry a little shamed. She does come off a little scarred on the album, like she had lost a bulk of the confidence she had just recently seemed to gain. The vocal delivery is not as strong as before and very whispy, at times unintelligible. It’s not a great piece of work, it’s sometimes uneven and there is lots of unnecessary filler as well. Despite all that though, the album has some great highlights. “Yours” is a beautiful and sweet love song, “The One” is a really well written song about the fears of Love, “You Got Me” is one of her most effortless sounding Hip Hop collaborations, and “My Saving Grace” is a wonderful inspiration almost Gospel moment with some amazing vocal runs included. The overall feel though is that Mariah was shaken, doubted her musical instincts and wasn’t sure what to do with this album to get her back in the good graces of the public.
Grade: C Best: My Saving Grace, Yours, The One
2005 marked “The Return of the Voice”, or at least that’s how Mariah’s label promoted “The Emancipation of Mimi“, which ended up being the comeback of the year. Her ’emancipation’ seemed to be more of a freedom from insecurities, and the rebirth of a confident writer vocalist and artist trusting her own instincts. The album is full of fun and joy evidenced in the first single “It’s Like That”, and it’s surprising that her biggest hit of the entire decade (the #1 song of the decade by the way), “We Belong Together”, is not a traditional ballad with the traditional power belts. It’s evidence that she wasn’t going to just go into the album doing what was expected of her, and she ended up doing something new and unique. The album does have a number of ballads, but everything here sounds steeped in R&B, a perfect tonal choice because her voice had returned to the full power, long belts and impressive runs of yore. So instead of a “Hero” or “When I Saw You”, we get more soulful stuff like “Circles”, “Joyride” and “I Wish You Knew”. Impressive album, and a happy moment for Lambs.
Grade: A Best: We Belong Together, Shake It Off, Joy Ride
On the sequel to “Mimi”, “E=MC2“, we find Mariah at her most fun and flirty. The album has somewhat been written off because of the heavy Jermaine Dupri presence, but it’s really an album where Mariah steps out of her comfort zones and little bit and tries new things. She dons a Jamaican patois on “Cruise Control”, gets uncharacteristically sexy on the #1 hit “Touch My Body”, she gets Michael Jackson funky on us with “I’m That Chick”, and she harmonizes with the vocoded-vocals of T-Pain on “Migrate”. It’s a really upbeat and energetic album that is very under appreciated. The only downside I can see is that at times it’s a little repetitive and sometimes too familiar. The Dupri produced tracks in particular, for example “I Stay in Love”, “Thanx 4 Nothing” and “Last Kiss” are good enough on there own, but seem interchangeable when listening to the album on the whole. Otherwise “E=MC2” is a severely underrated and risky outing for the ‘Elusive Chanteuse’. It really showed Mariah at a time where she just wanted to do what she wanted musically for a change.
Grade: B+ Best: Touch My Body, Cruise Control, Side Effects
With “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel“, Mariah switched up her formula a bit. Instead of testing out new producers mixed with using her stand by’s, she decided to do a full album with The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, and the gamble paid off in a big way. This album is diverse, with uptempo, urban, R&B, pop ballads and slow jams. The beauty is that Tricky and The-Dream manage to keep everything cohesive and flowing so there’s never a need to press the forward button. I remember listening to this album and hesitating to say it was her best album. There’s just something about the feel of the album that fits her voice and her attitude perfectly. This is a truly underrated work, as there’s plenty to marvel at. The lyrics and delivery behind “H.A.T.E.U.” make for one of her best R&B slow jams, “Inseperable” and “More Than Just Friends” are fun but display some amazing vocal techniques. There’s also a great deal of humor here, it’s hard not to giggle at some of the lines in “It’s A Wrap”, “Up Out My Face” and hit single “Obsessed”. And that’s my favorite thing about the album, there’s a real personality that came out.
Grade: A+ Best: H.A.T.E.U., Up Out My Face, It’s a Wrap
Now can you see why the expectations for “Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse” were so high. Check out my review on the new album.
Grade: B- Best: Dedicated, Supernatural, #Beautiful
So that’s that, I don’t think we need to really get into the Classic “Merry Christmas” from 1994, and the nearly forgotten “Merry Christmas II U“. We already know that the first outing is now a record breaking Christmas standard, and it’s one of those Christmas albums that you can play from front to back and get that festive spirit with fun uptempos and more spiritual ballads. “Merry Christmas II U”, released in 2010, was also decent. “Oh Santa!”, the fun lead single, was very very underrated because it really does have a great Christmas pep to it. Other highlights are the jazzy “Christmas Time is in the Air Again”, and the Donny Hathaway “This Christmas”-sounding R&B leaning “When Christmas Comes”. It’s not as great as the former Christmas album, but it’s worthy of being in the Holiday collection.