Mariah Carey

Epic, 2018

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Caution is Mariah Carey’s 15th studio album, released some 28 years after dropping her self-titled debut in 1990 that fast became an instant R&B crossover classic. Carey then rode a wave of success rarely seen throughout the ’90s that cemented her place as not only one of the most gifted and talented singers (and songwriters) out there but also one of the most successful recording artists in music history. As the new millennium kicked off, however, things turned a little pear-shaped for Carey as both her personal life and career took unexpected dips to lows that nobody really saw coming.

The Glitter album (much better than critics cared to admit) and movie (they got this one right; it’s a shocker) debacle made 2001 the worst of years for team MC. A swift plan to put out the fires of failure with the following year’s Charmbracelet LP didn’t work, as it was received with the same indifference (if a little less scorn) that Glitter got despite it containing some of Carey’s most personal lyrics. Musically it was rather lifeless and her second consecutive flop then faded from view and the memory of all, save for the hardcore fanbase.

Following battles with mental health and dealing with trying to resurrect a once massively successful career, Carey’s steely determination paid off with 2005’s inspired The Emancipation Of Mimi set that took her back to the more familiar highs of her stunning ‘90s successes. That album rebooted Mariah Carey for a new generation perfectly, blending the urban grooves and soul ballads with smatterings of hip-hop that Carey had long tried to perfect but never quite managed.

The last fifteen years have seen Carey marry again, have children, divorce again, and juggle a couple of high profile on again, off again relationships. All of this has at times contributed some inspired material across three quite different records (2008’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 E=MC2 an upbeat affair housing several bangers, 2009’s Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel was largely forgettable then and remains so and 2014’s Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse was as confusing as its title, although it did contain a few gems.) Each of those offerings were overblown and over-produced; however, that’s not the case with Caution.

This time around Carey has kept it short and stripped-down, clocking in at a tick under forty minutes, this ten-track set of minimalistic urban beats is the best thing MC has done in fifteen years. Acting as the main producer/songwriter herself, it appears that Carey has kept a tighter rein on the ensembled contributing artists, creating a seamless, chilled and enjoyable set that never wears out its welcome. There are some definite sleepers here that have grown on me over multiple plays. Possibly the most pleasing aspect of Caution is that the real star of the show is Mariah Carey’s stunning vocals and shade-throwing lyrics.

Carey’s vocal prowess is much celebrated, and at fifty, her pipes are in fine form. There is some roughness around the edges that gives character and the lessened vocal gymnastics these days is a welcome relief. Everything about this record is understated, much like the cover shot and artwork. There are no schmaltzy ballads or overblown dance-floor fillers to be found here. Caution is just full of beautiful ambient moodiness like “Giving Me Life” (one of her finest moments) and “8th Grade,” one of those sleepers that grows with time. “The Distance” featuring Ty Dolla Si$n is an ’80s synth pop track with some hip-hop flavour thrown in; it’s lyrically defiant and assured, which cuts against some of the grain here.

The sweet title track finds Carey attempting to kick-start an on-hold relationship pleading with her fella to “proceed with caution” to avoid all out disaster. “A No No” is the most passive-aggressive track on the album and probably the most accessible along with “One Mo’ Gen.” The most experimental moments on the record are the opener “GTFO,” which is one of the angriest songs Carey has ever written, although this is in contrast to her delivery here, opting for the whispery mid-range; it would’ve been nice to hear her go full throttle on this one.

“Stay Long Love You” (featuring Gunna) sounds like a ringtone that someone wrote a track around but it fits with what’s here well enough. The ballads are sedately chille: “With You” is the stronger of the two, although the closer “Portrait” is a piano-led throwback to the sounds of Carey’s glory days. It’s a nice touch to finish off a very pleasing set with. I really enjoy this album for what it is and for what it doesn’t try to be.

Caution is a mature urban pop album that benefits from the clear concept of less is more, which finds Carey matching the stripped-down tracks with restrained but emotive vocal performances. It’s an inspired change of pace and hopefully there’s more of the same to come.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2020 Mark Millan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.