Is it too much to suggest that Mariah Carey has now transitioned from a one-woman, five-octave range hitmaker into a diligent ‘album artist’? All signs since her 2004 renaissance The Emancipation of Mimi seem to suggest so. And now, with her 14th studio album – Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse – Carey shows us the breadth of her musicality.
The Elusive Chanteuse is the work of a consummate and knowledgeable fan of R&B music. Mariah doesn’t only serve as high priestess of vocals here, she is the album’s executive producer. Together with close collaborators Jermaine Dupri and Bryan Michael Cox, the diva captures significant trends in hip hop, R&B and soul on every track.
She offers traditional piano-based soul on ‘Cry.’ then fast-forwards to a very 2014 definition of R&B balladry on ‘Faded’. The latter is an immaculately-produced ProTools piece with bass-heavy beats and vocal loops, hemmed by hip hop producer of the moment Mike Will Made-It, who crafted career-defining tunes on Miley Cyrus‘ Bangerz.
The album’s flagship single ‘#Beautiful’ (featuring Miguel) hears Mariah do neo-soul with smouldering guitar twangs. It’s a year-old now but the song is still ear refreshment every time it comes on the radio. There is a simple and breezy quality to ‘#Beautiful’ that defies what people expect from the Grammy-winning chanteuse.
Watch the music video for Mariah and Miguel‘s smash hit ‘#Beautiful’:
Elsewhere, Carey even reimagines disco on ‘You Don’t Know What To Do’ (featuring Wale) and rides the Soul Train all the way to funky town on the album’s first rate uptempo ‘Meteorite’.
This is one of the more vibrant parts of the listening party where Mariah enjoys an ‘artpop’ moment, referencing Andy Warhol and singing about the flashing lights of fame amidst glitzy strings and synth trumpets.
She sings: “‘Cause you got the night to light up the sky, meteorite in front of every eye. Oh shooting star, your pain is a flame. And they watch you burn up, turned up, turnt up all the way!” The sugary tune would make for a sensible mash up with Carey’s 1992 hit ‘Make It Happen’ at her next concert.
Listen to ‘Meteorite’:
The Elusive Chanteuse adheres to a familiar Mariah album format with one token cover (she takes on George Michael‘s 1988 hit ‘One More Try’) and gospel track. ‘Heavenly (No Ways Tired/ Can’t Give Up Now)’ doesn’t just take you to church. It singlehandedly hails down the sweet chariot that swings low and sweeps you to the pearly gates.
The uplifting track stretches over five-and-a-half minutes, which is indulgent by any measure, but for Mariah it somehow feels justified. So many of her songs of late seem to fade out prematurely when she starts ad libbing or doing impressive vocal feats (see her 2009 cover of ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’). So for ‘Heavenly’ to let us have an extra minute-and-a-half with the gospel choir and Mimi’s trills is a treat.
At this point, it must sound like the album is doing too much, and that’s only half true. Despite the A-grade vocals and eclectic collection of musical references, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse is not the “full package” Mimi album you wish it to be.
Chanteuse shows a lot of production flair but lacks the backbone of strong songs to lift it, which is unusual since songwriting has always been Carey’s biggest drawcard (second to her pipes, of course).
Lyrically, The Elusive Chanteuse isn’t even in the same league as her flop 2009 album Memoirs of An Imperfect Angel, which bore some of the most underrated and personal lyrics in Carey’s career since 1998’s Butterfly. On this new album, embarrassing grabs at urban slang like ‘Thirsty’ are a low point, especially since we know Mimi is capable of doing proper ego-diminishing diss tracks like ‘Obsessed’.
Regardless of her ditsy and drag queen-like persona, Mariah is a known, highly-skilled songsmith with a history of writing music people can connect with. However, her focus seems to have changed with this project. The songwriting output here feels second rate compared to the effort she invested in making the album sound good.
Nothing could hide the fact that while M.I.A.M.T.E.C. is a nice musical showcase – and rightly deserves all the kudos for it – most songs won’t find its way into the hearts of millions, awful talent show auditions, or soundtrack break ups in the pouring rain the way her past records have. And what a bleak reality that would be – even for an elusive chanteuse.
Listen to Mariah’s ‘The Art of Letting Go’:
Stand out tracks: ‘Meteorite’, ‘You Don’t Know What To Do’, ‘#Beautiful’ and ‘The Art of Letting Go’ (she’s only on the deluxe edition, dahhhling…)