In the nearly five years since Mariah Carey's last proper studio album, the singer has given birth to twins, served a stint on "American Idol," and reaffirmed her acting skills with a couple of films thankfully not called "Glitter II." She's also logged a ton of studio hours, and this, her 14th full-length, arrives after some three years of recording, numerous delays and at least one unintentionally hilarious discarded title, "The Art of Letting Go."
Because Mariah can always be counted on for crazy brilliance or just plain craziness, anticipation has been mounting for months, and that wacky title—lifted from a self-portrait the singer painted when she was three years old — has only added to the buzz. What does this 40-something mega-rich mommy with the seemingly perfect life have to say for herself?
The usual, more or less. Musically, it’s her typical mix of pop-classicist balladry and hip-hop-tinged summer jamming, and if Carey doesn't exactly go strutting into new territory, it’s because she knows most people like her right where she is.
Read on to get our initial track-by-track take on this welcome comeback from one of music’s most talented eccentrics.
"Cry": Easing into her comeback, Mariah opens with a big ol' piano ballad. She wants to hold her lover until they both start bawling, and while that's hardly the sentiment you want to hear at the start of an album—particularly one released on the eve of beach season—it's probably the record's heaviest moment.
"Faded": Listen closely, and there are lots of Mariahs on this track. Some do percussive "oh" and "eh" scatting, while at least one goes into that super high glass-shatter register that Carey has been wowing the world with since her very first single. Can any of them solve the romantic quandary driving the lyrics? Probably not, but at least Mike Will Made It gives the chorus of Careys a cool beat to sing over.
"Dedicated": This is straight-up nostalgia—as Mariah and guest Nas discuss in the intro—and amid references to Heavy D, Slick Rick, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Run-D.M.C., the singer looks back on both the records and the romances that have shaped her life. While much of the world is stuck back in the '90s, she and Nas are chilling in '88 and having a ball.
"Beautiful": Mariah's always had a thing for the bad boys, and here, Miguel stars as the red-light-running biker dude who gets her motor going. They both tell each other that beauty is the thing driving their infatuation, and thanks to a retro-futuristic soul backing, the superficiality comes off as kind of sexy. It's like a modern "Stand by Me," only these two can't stand still.
"Thirsty": Backed by Hit-Boy's sparse, spacey hip-hop beat, Mariah dresses down a celeb-whore paramour who only wants to piggyback on her fame. After four songs about love, heartbreak and nostalgia, it's nice to hear our girl get a little feisty.
"Make It Look Good": Sometimes, you know you're getting played, but you decide to just go with it. That's what Mimi does here, and as she lets loose over what sounds like a skipping '80s-era Stevie Wonder record, it's clear she's willing to let this no-good lip-licking Romeo take her for the proverbial ride. Her laugh at the end shows how silly it's meant to be.
"Your Mine (Eternal)": With its simple piano lick, longing lyrics and skittering, minimal beat, the disc's third single harks back to "We Belong Together." Once again, Mariah admits she's powerless in the face of love. There's some of her mega-high-pitched singing toward the end of the track, but this one works because of a simple hook and sentiment. No gymnastics required.
"You Don't Know What to Do": The album's first real chance to dance finds Carey and Wale in the disco, bumping butts like it's 1977. The string sounds are right out of Chic's "Good Times," and the only thing missing is a Nile Rodgers cameo. (Yeah, the guy's busy these days, but she had three years to book it.)
"Supernatural": So begins the recording careers of "Dembabies," aka Mariah and husband Nick Cannon's fraternal twins, Monroe and Moroccan. "Got me lost in the clouds," she sings. "Slowly, keep me here always / You're the only thing that's true." The kiddies bring plenty of A-1 giggle game, making this sappy cut feel pretty damn cute.
"Meteorite": Having professed her love for the twins, Carey hires a sitter and heads back to the club. This time, it's Q-Tip providing the disco beat, and as Mariah gets down, she offers up some commentary on celebrity culture, comparing a female star — perhaps herself — to the titular bit of flaming space rock. If she's talking about crashing and burning, she makes it sound pretty hot.
"Camouflage": For all her vocal skill, Mariah can't sell every earnest piano ballad, and this one simply falls flat. The lyrics are stock and the melody doesn't stick, and if anything, it's a breather between the preceding smooth groover and the absolute banger waiting on deck.
"Money": Every R&B album needs a "money don't mean nothing" jam, and here, Mariah and Fabolous get anti-materialistic over a thumping Hit-Boy beat. How strong is this love Mariah and Fab are singing about? It evidently trumps "holidays" and "hollandaise," and that's saying something, 'cause eggs Benny is mad delicious.
"One More Try": On her last album, Mariah covered Foreigner. She shows much better '80s taste with this update of George Michael's "One More Try." The production borders on schmaltzy, but at least this Long Island girl didn't go the Journey route or—worse yet—show some tri-state love with a Bon Jovi remake.
"Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can't Give Up Now)": With a full choir on board, Mariah gets behind the wheel of a gospel tour bus and floors it toward salvation. It's even schmaltzier than the George Michael cover, but hey, middle school glee clubs need songs to sing at graduation, so this thing serves at least one purpose.