The past few years have not been kind for one of music’s most respected stars, Mariah Carey. Beginning with her release of the 2009 album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, charts and music fans were not fair to the woman who holds a record for having a number 1 single every year throughout the 1990s. The album was forgotten about not too long following its release and a proposed remix album to accompany it was cancelled. A second holiday album, Merry Christmas II You, was then quickly announced and released instead. The acclaim fell short in comparison to her first holiday themed album, Merry Christmas. The singles she planned out for her 17th release, which was then titled The Art of Letting Go, had only one bonafide hit: the sweet sounding #Beautiful, released about a year ago. As the public began to count her out, the diva decided to pull it all back and start from scratch, which leads to the work on her latest disc, which was retitled, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse.
While the title is probably one of her most ridiculous (this follows other album titles such as The Emancipation of Mimi, Rainbow and Glitter — that album gets a worse rap than it truly deserves, by the way), the songs on the album more than makes up for it. Things open up with the reflective Cry, a piano-driven ballad where Carey’s low register expresses the pain of attempting to heal a broken relationship. It builds to a powerful climax where she nearly screams out her need for forgiveness. It is hard not be moved by these vocals, but the journey is just beginning.
There are many bits and pieces of the long standing career of Carey throughout Elusive Chanteuse; a career which is going onto an amazing 24th year. The third track on the disc, the nostalgic Dedication, is a sweet and sexy double entendre, based on a time long gone. The juxtaposition of private moments with what blared through speakers during a common block party is sure to hit a spot from anyone who lived through either experience. Further along on the album, Make It Look Good features a collaboration with a harmonica playing Stevie Wonder. It is probably the most retro sounding song on the album, but it works so well in joining the pieces that have helped the now 45-year-old cement her place in music history.
Things begin to get a little less elusive on one of the album’s major dance tracks, You Don’t Know What to Do. Joined by hip-hop artist, Wale, the straight up party jam begins with nothing but Mimi, a piano and the enthusiasm of the rapper. Wale’s opening verse tells you right from the offset that it is time to get out of your seat. “Don’t f*** with my mood,” he spits into the mic and damn if you don’t find your mood raising to a new height as Mariah follows his bars, telling her man that he cannot handle a woman like her.
One of the standout tracks of the album features two other surprise collaborators. With understanding that the chanteuse is now a loving mother, everyone can figure that the ode-to-motherhood song is coming. However, Supernatural plays out a lot differently than those songs of the past. First off, the inclusion of Carey’s children, twins Moroccan and Monroe (lovingly called “Roc and Roe” or simply “Dembabies”) make this song something special in its own right. Secondly, although there are the necessary cute giggles of the 3-year-olds, the two actually sing on the track. It is obvious that little Monroe, who is featured a little more than her brother, gets her pipes from her five-octave owning mother. Those two are going to be a handful, but for now, it feels as if Carey is inviting us to know them as opposed to forcing them upon us. The track itself is so sweet, your teeth will hurt (and if you don’t smile at hearing little Monroe saying, “I’m a chanteuse,” you might need to check to see if you have a heart).
Those who love it when Mimi plays with hip-hop will not be disappointed either as the banger Thirsty and the Fabolous assisted Money will grab your attention. She even toys a bit with disco on the fun Meteorite. The lyrics to the song seem to be playing two mediums: one about a fun loving girl who refuses to be held back, and the other, an ode to the singers who keep trying to come for the fame of Carey. The opening to the track has her repeating a famous quote by Andy Warhol, “Everyone will be famous for about 15 minutes.” Ever the wordsmith, one will not be able to definitively place if it is a high show of shade or just a song to dance to. Carey would have it no other way.
Another standout on an album so full of them is a cover. Carey has been known to create her own take on a good throwback song. This time around, it is One More Try. With the George Michael 80s classic placed in her hands, she makes it even more of a religious experience than even he managed to. Considering Michael’s use of a church organ is part of what made the song so memorable, Carey’s version comes dangerously close to trumping it with pushing the song to an even higher spiritual degree. The theme of trying to love again is definitely not lost in her vocals. It is a complete home run, by all counts.
It feels like at long last, this is the album that brings forth the true return of Mariah Carey. Searching for the Elusive Chanteuse has been quite the effort. From songs that did not feel right, to others that tried too hard and moments where many believed they would never have her back, Carey has proven that she still has something up her sleeve when it comes to surprising music listeners. The closer on the standard edition of the disc, Heavenly is a straight-up gospel sermon with the line, “I just can’t give up now; come too far from where I’ve started from.” Mariah Carey has come extremely far and now that it is known she can still create music like this, she is not allowed to ever go back.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown