Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mariah Carey's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

Reflecting on an Imperfect Album...
Rating: 2/5
The first track on Mariah Carey’s new album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, entitled “Betcha Gon’ Know,” is perfect. Produced by the chart-topping songwriting team of Tricky Stewart and The-Dream (“Umbrella” anyone?”), the song slithers along for a smoothed-out, sexy four minutes, with Mariah showcasing her often surprising knack for vocal subtlety. Most Mariah fans can’t help but roll their eyes just a bit when she relies on that breathy, super-girly whisper voice of hers, but here it’s utilized for maximum impact, accentuating her intricately-constructed, hip hop-inspired phrasing. The song is smoky and dreamlike, and gets the album off to a wonderful start. Perhaps Carey and her collaborators took note of this, because they seem to have made the ill-fated decision to make almost every other song on the album sound ridiculously similar to “Betcha Gon’ Know.” Or maybe track three, “H.A.T.U,” came first. Or maybe it was “Inseparable.” Bottom line: Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel is a once-in-a-while entertaining but overall unremittingly repetitive album, one that will hopefully serve as a wakeup call to Mrs. Cannon that perhaps it’s time to reinvent the wheel.

Mariah Carey’s best album is 1997’s Butterfly. Her previous releases were bigger sellers and have the more indelible hits of her career, but Butterfly was an artistic epiphany for an artist known more for her powerful (or just plain loud) vocals than her creative ambitions. By injecting the songs with a healthy dose of hip hop (something extremely common for pop divas today, but very risky back in 1997) Butterfly successfully set Carey apart from former peers like Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. Unlike them, Mariah had actually co-written and composed almost all of her material since her debut album, and seemed willing to embrace more subtlety, rhythm and nuance in her vocals; the very qualities most overproduced pop divas seem to run from like the plague. Though she would basically stumble through the next 6 or 7 years of her career (ahem…Glitter?), the stylistic changes found on Butterfly allowed Mariah to stay relevant with a younger audience, while Whitney and Celine faded into the background. Mariah’s next good album, 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi, put her back on top, selling more albums than any other that year(!), largely on the strength of its monster singles. But then something strange happened; Carey’s next album, last year’s E=MC2, both sucked and bombed respectively.

And her latest attempt probably won’t help matters. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel opened at number three on the Billboard album charts, behind Paramore and Barbara Streisand, and will most likely fall out of the top ten completely only three weeks since its release date. Of course, record sales and artistry are two very different things, and if Mariah were taking creative, inspired risks with her music that the public simply isn’t ready for, then this would be a very different review. But Mariah Carey has a problem on her hands, or shall I say multiple problems. For one thing, she barely sings on this album. Obviously, that statement makes no sense; she’s definitely “singing” on this album. But Mariah Carey is not Rihanna. She’s Mariah Carey. You know…the powerhouse vocalist with that 5, 6, 7 octave range. Lead-off single “Obsessed” is a fun song for sure, but why in the hell is Mariah Carey using auto-tune? Inevitably, one can’t help but be put off by the way Carey has allowed her collaborators to squeeze and contort her voice and musical persona into current trends in such an obvious, almost insultingly-underwhelming way. Nothing new. Nothing interesting.

Once again, there are enjoyable moments on Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, but more often than not the results are just plain ridiculous. Mariah has never been Joni Mitchell, but the lyrical content here is seriously pandering to the lowest common denominator. On the song “It’s Impossible” it’s like she wants to make sure that 5 year-olds know what she’s talking about when she sings “Love you like a freeze-pop/Love you like a milkshake/Love you like a high school girl on a first date.” Freeze-pops and milkshakes? Isn’t Mariah pushing forty? What kind of 40 year-old describes love that way? You may not have noticed this, but at the end of “Obsessed”, when Mariah finally lets loose and shows off that legendary voice, she’s singing “He’s all up in my George Foreman!” over and over again. Like…as in George Foreman Grills. Get it? Cringe-worthy stuff here Mariah. Listening to this album reminded me of an episode of Maury where this 16 year-old girl brought her mom on the show because she was always dressing up in clothes for teenagers and trying to hang out with her daughter’s friends.

Mariah, it worked on Butterfly, but that was twelve years ago. It’s time to grow up. Trust me on this one. That girl’s Mom looked amazing after her makeover.

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