Five bright spots from Mariah Carey's long-delayed 14th album
It's been a long road to Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse, Mariah Carey’s fourteenth (!) studio album. Since she began work on the record in 2011, she has hired and fired Randy Jackson as her manager, brought back OG collaborator Jermaine Dupri, fought with Nicki Minaj on American Idol, released 1 successful single followed by 3 unsuccessful ones that stalled on the charts, delayed the album more than 2 years, dislocated her shoulder but triumphed through the pain with bedazzled arm casts and finally released the record on Def Jam last week. Phew. After all of that, the results are spotty—at times an insecure jumble of nostalgia a la Robin Thicke and hastily crafted of-the-moment beats. But the first half of the album contains some great material produced in conjunction with Hit Boy, Mike WiLL Made It and Jermaine Dupri. If you're not too interested in slogging through, take a listen to our five favorite tracks.
"Faded" (Produced by Mike WiLL Made It)
Though his Miley-mania fueled 2013 was most certainly a career high for Mike WiLL Made It, he's also having a pretty good run in 2014—"Move That Dope” is the sleeper anthem of the summer, and "Faded," his one track on the Mariah album, is probably the record's best moment. He takes the classic slow-burn yearning that Mariah has always done to great success and runs some easy trap drums beneath it to make it sound now. Mariah's smart move has been carefully updating her sound over the 20+ years of her career without ever overdoing it on trendiness or overshadowing that classic voice she has—"Faded" hits that sweet spot that makes you wish Mike WiLL had made the whole album.
"Dedicated" (feat. Nas)
This track starts out with a mini-monologue about hip-hop nostalgia, which is the first clue that this record is going to be filled with throwback moments. When they work, like it does on this track, the first of 3 produced by Hit Boy, it's a thing of beauty. "Dedicated" rides like something from the late '90s, and having Nas on it is just the icing on the cake. Not gonna lie, though, hearing a guest verse only makes me wish she had worked with some slightly fresher rappers. Can you imagine her with Drake? Or YG? Ty Dolla $ign? Would've been incredible.
"#Beautiful" (feat. Miguel)
This song came out last year, so it's nothing new. But hearing it on the album is a reminder that this is now a new modern Mariah classic worthy of her canon—sure, it's a bit adult contemporary, but it's the kind of adult contemporary that sounds spawned from the same creative wellspring that the best songs in R&B history have been. The video is batshit crazy though—why is she dancing in a barn filled with chandeliers? Who cares?
I'm calling "Thirsty" Mariah's necessary Rihanna moment—Hit Boy and Rey Reel take production credits along with Carey for this one. A lot of people are loving this song but I think it's only slightly above average: never mind the of-the-moment bottle service beat that carries the verses, I actually much prefer the slowed down silky chorus, which harks back to her career highlights of the Rainbow-era, like "Crybaby.”
"Make It Look Good"
This song, the first Jermaine Dupri moment on the album, is just so straightforward and incredible—it's nothing too insane or special, but it's Mariah's ideal tempo and Jermaine really knows how to work with her voice better than pretty much anyone. The piano and stop-and-repeat beat combine to give the song the Cadillac of production, and it's easily the most ideal vehicle on the whole album to showcase what she does best as a vocalist.