Mariah Carey - Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.27.2014
Mariah Carey returns with her first regular studio album in over five years. But does the vocally versatile diva have a place in the pop music landscape anymore? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Cry." (4:49)
2. "Faded" (3:39)
3. "Dedicated" (ft. Nas) (4:13)
4. "Beautiful" (ft. Miguel) (3:20)
5. "Thirsty" (3:26)
6. "Make It Look Good" (3:23)
7. "You're Mine (Eternal)" (3:44)
8. "You Don't Know What to Do" (ft. Wale) (4:47)
9. "Supernatural" (ft. "Dembabies") (4:38)
10. "Meteorite" (3:51)
11. "Camouflage" (4:49)
12. "Money" (ft. Fabolous) (4:55)
13. "One More Try" (6:17)
14. "Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can't Give Up Now)" (5:39)
15. "Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse" (1:12)
It's often easy to forget that Mariah Carey has one of the greatest singing voices of all-time. The pop superstar's incredible five-octave vocal range is the stuff of legend and has helped turn her into a household name, but it often gets lost amidst Carey's other exploits. From her headline-grabbing but credibility-killing run on American Idol to media focus on her occasional weight fluctuations, her feud with Eminem, her infamous breakdown after the disastrous Glitter and so on, Miss Mariah has often been relegated by others to the position of has-been amidst the ever-evolving pop landscape.
However, it must be noted that even with her last regular LP Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel having fallen a bit on deaf ears, Carey's status as one of the pre-eminent pop divas remains deservedly in place. Carey may not have the ravening young fanbase that Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and others have, but when it's time to get into the studio she can still deliver as long as her material is solid. Exhibit A: her new album Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse. With her latest effort, Carey has decided it's time to bring it back to basics and deliver an album that delivers what's worked for her in the past, in the hopes that it can lead her to a new renaissance on the airwaves and elsewhere.
Carey's biggest problem has always been herself. Carey captivated the world with her debut album because she came out of nowhere and delivered a voice that was absolutely stunning. But somewhere in the late 1990s she went astray, dropped by her label after the failure of Glitter and its accompanying album and her ego having ballooned out of control. It is that ego that seems to hold her back, leading her into periods where she loses touch with her musical strengths until she has a revelation that brings her back to what she does so well. It happened in 2005 with The Emancipation of Mimi and it's happening again here. Carey has cut out the crap of her life and stuck with what works; as cringe-worthingly pretentious as the title of this album is, Carey manages to keep her ego aside throughout Elusive Chanteuse in order to deliver a focused and cohesive musical effort.
That is evident from the opening moment of the album where "Cry." sees just a piano and light arrangement envelop her pensive voice. It hearkens back to her hits like "Vision of Love" and lets listeners know right off the bat that we're getting a focused Mariah who is letting her voice do the talking. On "Fading" she contemporizes and with Mike Will Made It at the production board she sings over a steely R&B beat about a failed love, with her voice layered over a couple of times. And just to remind you just how good she is vocally, Mike Will makes sure to capture her highest of high notes in the background. It's not entirely subtle, but it's not in your face and means that Carey doesn't need to resort to it through the main thrust of the song. It's a smart move; you don't want to feel like she's relying on it to lure people back.
In fact, while others might think that the pressure is on her to deliver, you wouldn't know it from listening to the LP. Carey seems more relaxed and confident on Elusive Chanteuse than she has in a long time. She loops her voice smoothly around what are for the most part very solid lyrics and the carefree nature makes the album a far smoother experience than we otherwise would have received. On "Dedicated," Mariah gets playful as she sings an ode to the music of the past, with Nas stopping by to deliver a solid verse reminiscing about the days of Doug E. Fresh and Heavy D. Carey has always seemed to try way too hard to show off her hip-hop cred, but here she seems at ease with it at last.
Of course, Elusive Chanteuse wouldn't be a pop album if it didn't have some ready-made airplay hits. For those we have "#Beautiful," which is the best song to ever include a hashtag. That's not a compliment on its face, but it's actually a fantastic song with a laid-back smooth jam feel and great vocal chemistry between her and fast-rising R&B superstar Miguel. "You're Mine (Eternal)" is the other single released off the album ("The Art of Letting Go" is saved for the deluxe version), and it is oddly overproduced at times. These are the moments where it legitimately does feel like she's letting the pressure get to her and she doesn't quite take off the way she should.
Lyrically it generally stands up as a solid album. Pop music has been battling with itself for a while now in terms of content, trying to balance the Lordes and Haims with the Ke$has and Miley Cyruses. Mariah settles for a spot firmly in the middle alongside the Beyonces and Adeles; she doesn't need to address social issues or create extended metaphors to deliver. A great example of "Thirsty," on which Mariah throws her name back in the ring for the title of queen of the slam. "You used to be Mister-all-about-me/now you're just thirsty for celebrity" she spits over a club banger beat and synth. It's an example of Mariah with a little fire in her, which is often the best Mariah out of the many faces she offers. Of course they can't all be winners and "Supernatural" finds itself rather lacking in a lyrical content, while the bizarrely-named "Money ($ */...)" finds her taking an unfortunate backseat to Fabolous. It's a strange moment of selflessness that seems out of character from Carey (although oddly fitting for an album named "The Elusive Chanteuse") and provides one of the few real duds on the LP.
Standout Tracks: "Cry.," "Thirsty," "#Beautiful," "You Make It Look Good"
The 411: Mariah Carey isn't reinventing the pop music wheel with Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse, but neither does she seem to be just trying to hold onto what works just because it worked. With some decent production from the likes of Mike Will Made It, Jermaine Dupri and Mariah herself, the singer is able to deliver one of her more confident and mature efforts of the last decade. Carey won't be luring in any new fans with The Elusive Chanteuse but longtime fans may just find themselves coming back with remember of how good she can be at her best.