Mariah Carey • Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse • Def Jam • US Release Date: May 27, 2014
Nearly five years ago, Mariah Carey released a solid, if not necessarily flashy album in Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Like her previous albums of the 00s, Memoirs featured a quirky title, tailor-made for the prodigiously voiced R&B diva. Despite its quality and a hit with “Obsessed”, Carey found her numbers down tremendously, even missing the number one spot on the Billboard 200. Five years later, and a couple of album delays thrown in there as well, it makes one wonder if Carey’s comeback album and first of the 10s can survive in a world where album sales continue to plummet, particularly in the R&B realm. Speaking on the commercial fortunes of latest LP Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse is premature before the album actually charts, after listening and analyzing the affair, I hope that Carey can whip out some of her old commercial magic. Me is a pleasant album, and even with its flaws (there are some), it does showcase the tremendous artistry and talents of the musician.
“Cry” initiates Me in a moody, though somewhat subtle fashion. Rather than throwing an up tempo burner at her audience, Carey opts for a smooth adult contemporary R&B joint accompanied by piano. During the first verse, Carey showcases her smoky, seductive lower register. On the chorus, the vocals are more lush and emotional, matching the connotation the song title expresses. By the second verse, Carey pushes more, ascending into her upper register that’s cemented her legacy as one of the best of all time. There is really little to cry foul (no pun intended) on the opener, save for the slow tempo may be ever too lethargic. Still, lyrics such as “My love, imprudently I left every cell in me / so naked, somewhere at the core of you/ bless our souls” do capture your attention.
“Faded” is more contemporary minded than “Cry”, particularly given its production by Mike Will Made It. To Mike Will’s credit, this is one of his ‘tamer’ productions, fitting better with a classy voice like Carey’s. Moments like a rhythmic, but somewhat clunky pre-chorus evidence that “Faded” is still a bit ‘all over the place’, but the basic R&B cues are in place. Many purists will prefer the more traditional “Cry”, but there are some pros, and if nothing more, “Faded” shows Mimi’s willingness to assimilate to pop music trends of the day.
“Dedicated” proceeds and looks to the past for its inspiration. The script is obvious, as Carey explicitly states it: “I’ll just sit right here and sing that good old school sh*t to you.” It gets better though, as Carey continues on in the second verse: “Boy it was so real, I wanna feel that again / loyal friends form way back then / tell me can you vision us / 36 Chambers High.” Oh and by the way, she gets an assist from Nas, known for his clever lyricism as an MC: “Nah, we don’t wish today’s game was old again / we just wish it wasn’t full of Draconian, Babylonian, phony men…” Even with the ‘old school’ being the focus, the groove is nu-school, thanks to Hit-Boy.
At the time single “#Beautiful” arrived in 2013, it was brilliant move on Carey’s part to pair with then hot alt-R&B singer Miguel. Even though the prime of the single has since worn off, “#Beautiful” remains a highlighting track from Me. “Hop on, the back of my bike / let the good wind blow through you hair,” ran memorably from Miguel on the first verse. He’d continue with the flattery, finishing the line: “With an ass like that and a smile so bright oh, you’re killing me, you know it ain’t fair.” The chorus sums up the sentiment exceptionally: “You’re beautiful, and your mind is f*cking beautiful / and I can’t pretend that that doesn’t mean a thing.” Carey wouldn’t be upstaged by Miguel though – particularly the way she was on dud “Triumphant (Get ‘Em)” which didn’t make the album: “I like when you run red lights / don’t stop ‘til you thrill me, oh how you thrill me.” Throw in signature Carey cues – ad-libs, whistle tones – and she’s on autopilot.
After “#Beautiful”, “Thirsty” has big shoes to fill. The hip-hop oriented R&B track doesn’t achieve the same level, even with Carey flaunting her ‘swag’ you might say. Like on “Faded”, Carey seems to be more forward thinking, attempting to successfully fit in and assimilate to a new generation of listeners. The track has its ups, but lines about “thinking you a boss now / boy you just f-ckin’ thirsty” don’t feel as authentic as more meaningful, substance-filled lyrics from MC. “Make It Look Good” is a much better fit, with Carey singing atop a more neo-soul, traditional R&B production. There’s still ‘swag’ and hipness (“Play those players who play you ‘til there’s no more / game left to be played”), but it feels a bit more natural and less forced. The fast-paced rhythmic vocals on the chorus are a nice bridge to hip-hop, while the overall vocal production shines.
“You’re Mine (Eternal)” didn’t exactly burn up the singles charts once it bowed, but it does represent the sound and type of track associated with Carey artistically. “I can’t seem to live without your love / suffocating here by myself, I’m dying for you touch”, Carey sings on the first verse. She sums up her dedication on the refrain. It’s predictable both thematically and lyrically mind you, but with Carey’s willingness to experiment at times on Me, “You’re Mine (Eternal)” is just what the doctor ordered at this stage of the album.
“You Don’t Know What To Do” dives into the pop-soul realm. That said, what better rapper for Carey to get to assist her than Wale, who excels on more soulfully produced joints? While the intentions are sound and definitely look good on paper, Wale himself doesn’t sound as electrifying as he has elsewhere. Carey sounds fine, but “You Don’t Know What To Do” doesn’t exactly ‘set the roof on fire’. It’s not ‘cold’, but perhaps only ‘lukewarm’. “Supernatural” feels a bit better, sporting a grinding tempo that allows for Carey to sing in ballad-style. Lyrically, however, “Supernatural” seems limited quantity. Additionally, the key change towards the end of the song isn’t smooth; music theorists everywhere are cringing everywhere in regards to the abruptness of the modulation.
“Meteorite” comes close, yet doesn’t quite reach its mark. The neo-disco cut seems a bit of a stretch stylistically for Carey. While it has some of the sentiments of “Heartbreaker” or even the more obscure “I’m That Chick” (E=MC2) and is certainly enthusiastic, the pop soul cut just doesn’t sound as if it’s perfectly executed. To its credit, perhaps it’s a grower. “Camouflage” lays better, employing piano accompaniment and vocal layers courtesy of what sounds like a gospel chorus. Throughout, Carey blesses the listeners with her magnificent upper-register ad-libs and nuances. The main rub, however is when it’s all said and done, there are just too many things going on simultaneously, making “Camouflage” a bit nebulous and cluttered. Then comes “Money (S*/…)”, one of the oddballs of Me. The production by Hit-Boy sounds off-putting initially, but once it settles in, has a hypnotic quality about it. Lyrically, “Money (S*/…)” lacks depth, but there is definitely something special about it despite its deficiencies. The hook shines if nothing more: “Money, this, that, the other / don’t mean nothing other than / jets on holidays and / chefs with hollandaise / expensive lingerie caused / I come home to you”. Loso (Fabolous) seems to have a good time assisting MC.
Mariah Carey closes Me with two covers. The first is “One More Try” from George Michael’s classic pop album Faith, which receives updates with backing vocals and production tweaks. All in all, Carey stays pretty true to the original, not a bad thing considering the beauty of the melody. She makes it her own contextually (ad libs, etc.), but she doesn’t supersede or usurp the original. Arguably, Carey ‘lets loose’ more on “Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can’t Give
Up Now)” tackling contemporary gospel powerhouse Mary Mary’s “Can’t Give Up Now”. The emotional gospel cut is right up Carey’s alley, as Carey is known for often closing her albums out with an inspirational song. Through the flurry of key changes and stomping drums, Carey ad-libs her heart out, pouring every ounce of emotion into the joint. Perhaps she overdoes it, but then again, gospel is known for its histrionics. Outro “Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse” provides background on the effort (it appears at the tail end of the deluxe edition rather than before the three bonus tracks).
The deluxe edition of Me offers three bonus tracks – two of which hail in their original form from Carey’s previous LP Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. On “It’s A Wrap”, Mary J. Blige joins Carey on the six-feel cut that already shined with Carey “riding solo”. R. Kelly provides vocal contrast to the chanteuse on “Betcha Gon’ Know”, the prelude track from Memoirs that set the tone exceptionally. The true standout track from the deluxe edition, “The Art of Letting Go”, finds Carey excelling at her ‘ace in the hole’ – balladry! Whether she’s down low or ascends to that potent, easily recognizable upper register, Carey captivates, relating to the audience, who reminisce about having to ‘let go’ themselves. Filled with memorable and prudent lyrical moments, “The Art of Letting Go” could’ve supplanted another track from the standard issue of Me. Ultimately, “The Art of Letting Go” is the draw of the deluxe edition.
More often than not, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse is an enjoyable Mariah Carey album and more generally, a solid contemporary R&B album. Carey and her songwriting and production team have essentially assembled and effort that covers a little bit of everything from pop-soul, neo-soul, retro-soul, neo-disco, and of course adult contemporary R&B. Personally, it proves to be a much better album than expected, particularly given the delays and a couple of singles that only managed to dint the charts. It’s by no means a perfect album; it’s lengthy by today’s standards and at times sounds over-cluttered with the production and multiple vocal layers. Even so, its flaws certainly aren’t deal breaking, with the pros outweighing the cons. After a five-year hiatus, Carey ‘came to play ball’ here – she ‘brings the heat’ on this comeback LP.
Summarizing Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse: Likes & Dislikes
+ Likes: Exceptional vocal moments from Carey; some enjoyable songs; overall enjoyable album
– Dislikes: Overcrowded production work at times; some songs could be better developed; too lengthy in duration
Favorites: “Cry”; “#Beautiful” ft. Miguel; “Make It Look Good”; “You’re Mine (Eternal)”; “The Art of Letting Go”