The Emancipation Of Mimi

Mariah Carey

Island Records, 2005



Back in the nineties when she seemed to be able to do no wrong, one reviewer famously said that Mariah Carey could sing the phone book and still sell millions. You can think of this quote as the pop/R&B version of "I saw rock and roll future and its name is blah blah blah."

It pays to have a simple media schtick: "I'm no rocket scientist, I'm no publicity artist a la Madonna, but I do know every single R&B and hip-hop track ever recorded in the United States of America and you're never going to hear me sing about what a bitch it is to be rich and famous, on any of my albums, ever." We can relate to that. Carey's not part of the Celebrity Race, she's just the embodiment of the good ol' American rotestant work ethic: work really hard at and love what you choose to do, don't ever whine in public, pay off mortgage gazillion times over. God bless America.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be writing about the best album of her career.

Carey reportedly grew up listening to the R&B soul hits of the late seventies, and tried to recreate the feel of those songs by bringing in a live band and leaving in some you-gotta-get-ugly-if-you-wanna-sing scratchy bits in her leads. What we end up with is Neo Soul, somewhat similar to the sound Erykah Badu recently abandoned for Ghetto Lilith Fair.

Songs like "Circles" and "Your Girl" have choruses that seem to be lifted from another era, and a track called "Joy Ride" sounds like a forgotten Minnie Riperton B-side. My favorite song in this vibe is "Stay the Night" a dance track driven mostly by piano and drums and Carey's voice turned on full. It's like turning on the radio in '70s Brooklyn, only having the most recognizable pop vocalist of the '90s crafting those riffs, creating this atmosphere that's all postmodern and interesting (I guess this is why they insist on putting the Neo in Neo Soul).

This album is being advertised as "The Return Of The Voice" (which is more of an apology for the mostly whispered 2002 release Charmbracelet) and no track makes this point better than "Mine Again," a simply written ballad with a clear melody and the Voice practically offering itself to inspection ("Uh, let me hear those belted notes again? OK"). But the best ballad on the album is the soulfully understated "We Belong Together" which does the two things Carey does best: sing sad, and shoot to number one.

Of course we have our party tracks, featuring A-list rappers as always, that gives the album a much edgier feel: "Say Somethin'" featuring Snoop Dogg, "Get Your Number" with Jermaine Dupri, "To The Floor" with Nelly and "One And Only" with Twista. But the thing about party tracks is that you either have to have a great sound system or go to a club and wait for that transcendent moment when the DJ saves your life with a song. I'm more of a put-CD-in-stereo-and-lie-on-floor-depressed type of person, although I did hear a remix of "It's Like That" played recently in a club and it had the effect of an instant collective upper.

Great sound and consistently positive, so not the phone book. I saw R&B present, and its name is Mariah Carey.

Rating: A

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