Mariah Carey - Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

Posted September 28, 2009
Tags: Mariah Carey,

We will never see another Mariah Carey. In addition to her superhuman vocal range – an...

Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel Album Review

We will never see another Mariah Carey. In addition to her superhuman vocal range – an astounding five octaves – and her unsurpassed hit-making abilities – she’s second only to the Beatles in number-one hits – America has watched its one true diva’s life unfold like a soap opera for well over a decade. There was her break up from music industry mogul Tommy Motolla, her very public nervous breakdown, and more recently her shocking marriage to Nick Cannon (when a guy whose biggest movie was DrumLine marries the highest selling female artist ever, it’s shocking). While Mariah’s exterior is always exquisitely composed, internally she’s lead an emotionally turbulent life. In other words, she’s an actual human being.

Mariah appears to be at least partially ready to openly acknowledge this fact on her new album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Far from the happy, shining girl America first watched skip through a field of flowers on Dreamlover, the Mariah we find here is a full grown woman who does not take kindly to drama. As the Wu-Tang Clan would say, Mariah Carey ain’t nothing to f**k wit. Produced almost entirely by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, Memoirs covers a lot of musical ground. So much in fact that it lacks an identity, a central core the listener can hold onto. Fittingly, it’s far from a perfect album.

The hip-hop-ization of Mariah’s music has been well chronicled, but it wasn’t until Memoirs first single Obsessed dropped that we could truly say she’d arrived. A not-quite-so-subtle jab at Eminem, Obsessed was in many ways classic Mariah; her vocals float above the production to create an enormously catchy melody. But lyrically we got something from her that we’d only seen in glimpses before, a confidence bordering on aggression. The ensuing and inevitable response from Em improbably cemented Mariah’s status as a battle rapper...kind of. This ready for war attitude carries over to a several other tracks on the album, manifesting in the brash Up Out My Face, a track that sounds like an attempt to recreate her Jermaine Dupri-era magic, and H.A.T.E.U. (I’m pretty sure you can figure out what that one’s about). The-Dream and Tricky’s lush electronic production style may not always be the best fit for Mariah, but it seems to have given her a real swagger on Memoirs.

Memoirs is a heavily hip-hop influenced album, except when it’s not. Actually, Mariah spends a significant amount of time harkening back to her more R&B roots, starting with Ribbon. Ribbon is the album’s most obviously Dream influenced work – Mariah even tries out a few of his signature “a”s – and the slightly dark style works, balancing what would otherwise be an overly sweet and cute track. If Ribbon doesn’t become a smash then this album is in serious trouble. Even more outside the boundaries of hip-hop – way, way outside – is I Want to Know What Love Is, a piano driven cover of 80’s band Foreigner’s smash hit. There’s a reason this song is a favorite of drunk people at karaoke bars, and it’s a testament to Mariah’s unbelievable vocal abilities that she transforms it into an at least respectable ballad. Personally, as long as Mariah’s going down the old school R&B road I’ll take The Impossible over Love Is any day. Impossible lets Mariah subdue her operatic tendencies to engage the listener on a personal level, even managing to have some fun with lines like “I love you like a freeze pop” (and if you know anything about how much Mariah loves her some freeze pops, that’s a lot). This open and almost vulnerable Mariah is my favorite Mariah; if only she showed up more often on Memiors.

I’ll probably have my car keyed (or covered in glitter) for saying this, but at the end of the day Memoirs is far from Carey’s best work. An uninspired Mariah is still better than almost anyone else, but while there are some notable exceptions, the majority of Memoirs feels automated, as if she knew the kind of tracks she “should” make and then diligently went about making them. Angels Cry could have easily come out in 1994 and More Than Just Friends, a track Diddy got involved with and predictably over-produced, feels calculated and almost heartless. Still, Mariah’s given us far more musical highs than we could ever pay her back for, and if it turns out that she’s not an actual goddess, that’s no sin. Even if she’s imperfect, she’s still an angel.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted September 28, 2009
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