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Album Review: Mariah Carey – Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse

Photo: Thomas Whiteside

‘Me. I Am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse’. That is the only time i’m saying that title. Not because it’s cringey and universally panned, it’s just rather long. In fact, I like the title. Not in a ‘what a cool title’ way, but in an ‘at least it’s not self titled’ way. That’s the issue with Mariah – she is a 90s starlet with a defining 90s voice and her music, even today, is tinted with 90s nostalgia so it can be very easy, two whole decades later, to get boring and predictable.

The theme running through the whole record is that it’s a bit more experimental than you’d think. Not that she’s gone all Bjork on us, but that the album explores more than the pure soulful hip-pop of it’s predecessors. ‘Meteorite’ is the prime example – though it’s far from Carey’s best, it’s old school dance instrumental is a little shock to the system. Elsewhere, smaller changes are made – that guitar line in ‘#Beautiful’, the distorted intermittent beats in the verses of the otherwise classic-Mariah ‘Make It Look Good’. It all goes some way in securing the interest of the listener – Mariah can sing, we know this, but it’s good to see she’s capable of pulling a few more tricks out of the bag. Stagnancy is not fabulous, darling.

In the tiring 18-track deluxe edition, things are pretty tough going. The album is not classic Mariah or groundbreaking so it does require a little perseverance from the listener. Single ‘Thirsty’ is a vibrant taste of 21st century Mariah retaining her style and ‘Money ($*/…)’ conjures a similar reaction thanks to it’s warm and infectious chorus. Rightly or wrongly, despite the moments of excitement, the record does feels like Mariah catering to her fans. As her spoken outro documents – ‘I decided to share it with those of you who actually care and have been with me through it all’ – this opus is not out to tread new ground or explore too widely. In fact, it feels like those moments of evolution are almost accidental. This album is Mariah doing Mariah – if you never liked Mariah, you won’t like this. But on the contrary, if you are a follower, another eighteen tracks to add to the collection aren’t likely to be rejected.

The whole ridiculousness of the record is part of it’s charm. The simpler songs that have no mention of Rae Rae or any intensely emotional spoken exchanges actually sound bland compared to the rest. It’s a reflection of Mariah herself – watch an interview with her and hear the casual name dropping, the extensive use of the word ‘darling’ and a general OTT vibe in everything she does. It’s the reason she is such an icon. You have your Adeles, modest to the core, but there’ll always be a place for people like Carey who is utterly bonkers in a very unique, fabulous way. This album is a reflection of who she is and is entirely for her fans. When you’re at this point in your career, you’ve earned the right to be just a little predictable – when people have a clear idea of what they want and expect from you, you can bite the bullet and take a risk or you can give what they want to the masses. Whether Mariah’s made the right decision is for you to decide but whilst you do, why not have a listen to the sublime ‘Betcha Gon’ Know’ and at least be thankful that this gem got a second coming.

Photo: Thomas Whiteside
Words: Simon McMurdo

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