It’s refreshing to see that while almost everyone alive is focusing on budgetary caution, economic modesty and fearfully counting every last penny, Mariah Carey has created something as lavishly and unashamedly self-rewarding as an album entitled Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel. As one of the world’s biggest selling female artists, a character famed for (alleged) extravagant demands and headline-worthy trends – a chauffeur for her dog, only eating purple food for a year etc. – and videos consisting of gratuitously lingering shots of wet breasts and dangerously low jeans, it’s hard to really be shocked by what she does next. Memoirs…, however, is an entirely surprising and reassuring album.
Co-written with and produced by C ‘Tricky’ Stewart and The-Dream, who have previously woven hypnotic and urgently sexual spells with Rihanna, Mary J Blige and Ciara, this album strips Carey of any cotton wool cladding and sickly, saccharine habits, simmering her vocals down to a potent whisper. Not many artists could handle this reduction in expression, let alone work it to their advantage, but Carey does. Rumours of throat cancer and damaged vocal cords may be swirling around blogs and gossip rags, but regardless of their validity, Memoirs… dissolves them all in one fiery breath. Carey’s vocals are heated and concentrated, a fresh departure from the multi-octave rollercoasters the last three albums have offered, though naturally these do feature in places.
What’s fascinating about a handful of these new tracks is the scorned and panic-stricken lover that drives them. As most will already be aware, first single ‘Obsessed’ is a smug and bitter response to the numerous ‘disses’ and insults rapper Eminem has thrown at Carey over the past few years. The hilarity of picturing these two pop icons repeatedly denying sleeping with the other is enough in itself, but add in Eminem’s expert retaliation with ‘The Warning’ – a carefully constructed track unwrapping their (alleged) relationship, Carey’s ironically obsessive behaviour, drunken phonecalls, sexually explicit activities and alcoholic tendencies – and, well, it’s enough to keep us interested. Given that Carey brazenly dressed up as the object of her scorn in the accompanying video to ‘Obsessed’, Memoirs… really had to hold the unexpected to justify something so out of character.
So, while some tracks are inevitably dishwater weak – most offensively, ‘Candy Bling’ and the unnecessary cover of Foreigner’s overblown ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ – there’s a host of poignant, well polished material to more than compensate. ‘H.A.T.E.U’ is a standout response to a publicly broken heart, ‘Standing O’ is a sleek and golden slice of R&B, while ‘Betcha Gon’ Know (The Prologue)’ is a rhythmic dissection of heartache. So while the hop back to Carey’s ’90s piano-laden melodies is welcome, as are the flavours of ‘Always Be My Baby’ and ‘Heartbreaker’, it’s largely the addition of Tricky and The-Dream’s darkly attractive production to Memoirs… that results in an unusually effective, self-aware and insightful ‘Mimi’ album. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to give it a try, Carey in drag really should.
[Island Def Jam; October 5, 2009]