However, is it? Mariah Carey, 39, has, in my own opinion, never sounded out of sync with the music of the times she lived in, and the things happening in her own life have always transcended into her albums. So, if this album is truly a plain throwback to the albums she produced in the 1990s, I simply cannot abide it. Nevertheless—and I will repeat myself—is it?
In the spirit of the media's obsessiveness about her 90s sound throwback, "Charmbracelet" was a castrated first attempt to bring back the old Mariah. It turned out to be a lacklustre album with few high notes, because let's be honest, Island Records probably wanted people to forget all about her Virgin Records disaster, and going from screaming disco-pop to crickets-crickets definitely did the job. Even though they killed any musical outbursts in the process, thereby guaranteeing that Mariah sounded bored and still-depressed on every song.
Though this all might just be my own personal interpretation of "Charmbracelet," I bet everyone will agree with me that she broke through that castration-barrier with "The Emancipation of Mimi." I'm not sure what she was on while recording "Emancipation," but we should all have a taste of that specific brand of crack. The production suddenly went from snooze to Hey-Bitch-Why-Aren't-You-Dancing, and every media outlet was calling this her grande comeback to the top of the music industry.
Really? A three year period between albums justifies calling something a "comeback" now? We all know Mariah Carey went nowhere, and we definitely know that "Emancipation" was nothing like her previous albums ("Rainbow" excluded). With "Emancipation" she told the world that she doesn't need to be relevant: the rest of the world needs to be relevant in accordance to her presence. If you want to call "The Emancipation of Mimi" anything, then call it an "industry reckoning"—Mariah making a statement that she was not to mess with. It's like that.
Then came "E=MC²"—which to me was nothing more than an attempt to solidify that reckoning. Some people called it "Emancipation 2" and they were probably right; if not that "E=MC²" felt like something "Emancipation" never achieved: consistent. The initial statement ("Emancipation") contained a lot of great songs, but lacked the overall steadiness of greatness—while "E=MC²" on the other hand achieved consistency. Mariah's musical, writing and production interests had finally come together, and it showed.
So, what does one do after finally feeling like a whole person again? Well, most people would chill and relax, and enjoy their country-sized Manhattan apartments.
Thankfully, Mariah Carey—every time I feel the need to write her full name; she's a corporation, you know—did not feel the need to relax. And thus we return to the original subject of this article: "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel."
"Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel"
I will stay on topic this time and start-off by stating that the first time I listened to it, it seemed to be an album that followed a few key rules from the Janet Jackson rulebook.
First of all, the album contains a prologue, two reprises, a prelude, and an interlude. Except for one of the reprises and the prelude, these are all almost full-length songs, making them an addition to the songs they're supporting instead of just introductions and endings. Some people don't like interludes; and under normal circumstances, I'm not part of that group. However, I found myself wondering why some of the interludes were included. The "Up Out My Face" reprise is nothing more than an unnecessary continuation of the original's song ending; "The Impossible (The Reprise)" feels almost like an entirely different number than the song it's supposed to be supporting; and "Angel (The Prelude)" does nothing more than establish what we already know: Mariah's voice can replace any man-made instrument.
Would I have been less critical if the interludes would've been full-blown Janet copies? Chatter and speaking introductions; orgasms and grunts; whole, awkward conversations with an inanimate robot? Perhaps; it would've showcased a more personal Mariah, and would have given us a different way into some of the songs. Yet, she didn't go that way; the interludes never surpass their two-dimensional nature, and while there is little to criticise when it comes to her execution of the interludes, they could've been much more.
Now on to the actual songs, considering that's what the album's really about. Is it a musical return to old-school Mariah Carey? Short answer: No. Grab your copy of "Mariah Carey" or "Emotions" or "Daydream", and compare it to "Memoirs"—you will quickly hear that this is in no way the same Mariah Carey. And though this may sound like a bad thing, in my opinion it's a compliment.
If she would've sounded exactly the same now like she did all those years ago, would that have been a positive commentary on her musical talents? It would not have been. The Mariah that sings on "Memoirs" is so much more a grown woman: a real woman, an emancipated woman. This is the woman Mariah Carey should have been from day one. Instead of wasting her talents on mediocre R&B-crossover songs, she sat down and recorded songs that showed progress, growth and stability.
The Bad (Or, The Nice)
Her crossover roots are still there, though. In "Ribbon" you can hear her slide between tempered R&B and a more hiphop-oriented sound; and she almost pulls it off. "Ribbon" is not one of the winners on the album, because to me it feels unfinished. It's a nice song to have playing in the background, but to actually pick-and-play it—no.
There are only three other songs on the album that have the same faith as "Ribbon": "Obsessed," "H.A.T.E.U." and "Standing O." The first one in this array, "Obsessed," should've been left off the album all-together in my opinion. It's a nice revenge song, that showcases Mariah's claws nicely. Which marks the second time I've used nice to describe a song, and that's really all that "Obsessed" is. Nice. Well, perhaps there's something else: it's extremely out of touch with the rest of the album. It's as-if Mariah recorded "Obsessed", walked into a door, and recorded the rest of the album.
"H.A.T.E.U." is not nice, on the other hand. It's much more than nice, and that's why it's such a shame Mariah's voice ruins the songs potential. While listening to the song, over and over, I wondered whether why she kept restricting her voice throughout the whole number. I didn't want to put all the blame on the awful use of auto-tune, but, I have to. "H." never became the song it should've been because Mariah doesn't need auto-tune. Do you have a lousy voice? Use auto-tune to make it seem hip. Have a superb, world-rocking voice? Use auto-tune to ruin every single note.
Then there's "Standing O," which doesn't suffer so much from auto-tune, but more from a lack of creativity. It's not an awful song—on the contrary, it's a great listen if you don't feel like experiencing inspiration.
The Good (Or, ... The Good)
If you have been waiting for praise, read on. Because from her ridiculously-awesome cover of "I Want to Know What Love Is" (including its awesome interlude) to the pop-sounding, voice-cracking "Up Out My Face", the rest of the numbers are fantastic, and many should deserve Grammy Awards.
"Up Out My Face" is just plain—dare I say it?—hip and cool. From the lyrics to the voice, to the repetition; this is a song that benefits greatly from a fun-sounding and tongue-in-cheek production. Where the repetition of "Standing O" fails, "Up Out My Face" excels.
All right, let's just stop and rewind for a bit. I started off by talking about Janet Jackson, and then almost-completely disregarded my own comment. Because, secondly, now that we're going to discuss "Candy Bling" and "More Than Just Friends", something from the Janet Jackson rulebook comes to mind. Mumbling. Or, to be more specific, alleged mumbling.
Especially in her recent work ("Discipline" excluded for convenience), Janet has been singing like a fourth-grade schoolgirl: very soft, very mellow, and without focusing all too much on enunciation. A lot of times you just want to shake her and yell at her, "Speak up, dammit!"
And that little routine comes to mind when listening to "Candy Bling" and "More Than Just Friends", both great songs with awesome beats and production, but both suffering from the alleged-mumbling syndrome. Especially when Mariah sticks with her whispering voice for more than a few lines it starts to become annoying. One shouldn't need printed lyrics to understand a song.
But I digress. There are five songs left on the list to talk about, and I'll start off by applauding Mariah for her cover of Foreigner, and the incredible prelude that goes with it. Many people don't like it and tell me that the timing is off, to which I say, it's a cover, people. It shouldn't need to follow the same timing and pacing; I actually believe it's a great improvement. The emotional baggage that is presented in the song really comes to the foreground in this way, and the relaxed build-up serves a presentational point. There is one annoyance in the song though: why isn't it about a minute longer? It fades-out in the best part of the song right now. Minor annoyance, though.
I have nothing intelligent to say about why I feel "Inseparable" is a superb song. Everything just fits—from the story-lyrics to the supportive execution of the music—and, furthermore, it feels like a pure Mariah Carey extraction. The same can be said from "The Impossible," a snug fit that also has the added benefit of providing Mariah with a way to show-off that she does know how to whisper-sing while enunciating.
"It's a Wrap" is a song that relies heavily on Mariah's voice, and which wouldn't have worked with a different artist. The song showcases the layers of her voice, puts a spotlight on her shouting abilities, and asks you to join in with your own singing—or, *cough*, at least that's what I got from it.
And that leaves just one song to discuss: "Angels Cry," the masterpiece song on the album. As you may have noticed, when it comes to applauding songs I have less to tell than when I'm criticising them, and the same applies here. "Angels Cry" is a song you just fall in love with. Ever been asked why you fell in love with someone, and you couldn't think of anything besides the clichéd obvious? I have the same with "Angels Cry." "What do you mean, why? Just listen to the song; isn't it bloody obvious why I did? That sound, those lyrics, the emotion and feeling, that awesomely fierce-yet-mellow ending, ... Pure excellence!"
Yes, I will say that "Memoirs" overall sound has more to do with Mariah's earlier albums than the recent batch that came from the House of Carey. The restless nature of "Emancipation" and the creative blandness of both "Glitter" and "Charmbracelet" (and perhaps also "Rainbow") have very little influence on "Memoirs" ("Obsessed" excluded; that one would've fit on "Emancipation").
However, run away from people who proclaim that this album is old-school Mariah Carey. The title, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" is a perfect description of what this album really is. It's the coming together of a willingness to sit back and enjoy life and music, and the talent to excel at providing your musical colleagues with a fuck-off message. Anyone who dared to doubt Mariah's ability to shine nineteen years after her debut, has been set right. There's only one, true and holy God, and her name is Mariah Carey.