Proceed with caution

Mariah Carey is on fire as she returns her fifteenth studio album, “Caution.”

By on December 4, 2018

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
“How about you get the fuck out?”

That’s Mariah Carey’s message to her man in “GTFO,” the sleek, sweet and airy opener on her latest release, “Caution.”

It’s also indicative of a rejuvenated Carey, one who doesn’t seem to have any more fucks to give.

“Caution,” her fifteenth studio release, comes on the heels of an unprecedented career upheaval. Her reputation has been marred by a series high-profile mishaps, reducing her name from unrivaled pop vocalist to a waning star best suited for the butt of internet-based jokes.

Her answer? A defiantly current, cohesive album that manages to straddle slow-burning R&B with glistening pop – and ultimately creating her best work in over a decade.

Her last release, 2014’s “Me. I am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse” offered fans solid material, but ultimately suffered from poor promotion and failed to make a lasting impact on the charts.

Carey has been pining for a return to commercial success for years now. Her last number one single, “Touch My Body,” was released a decade ago, and she is yet to craft an album that matched the glory of her last blockbuster, 2005’s “The Emancipation
of Mimi.”

This one might do it.

At a lean 38 minutes and 10 tracks, “Caution” wastes no time on filler, opting for an album of highlights only.

There’s the nostalgia-tinged “With You,” harking back to her 1990s power-balladry– not without a contemporary hip-hop beat courtesy of DJ Mustard to provide the backbone.

Then there’s the Lil’ Kim sampling, keyboard stabbing, “A No No,” where a brazen Carey flaunts her lyrical genius and iconic sense of humor, proclaiming there’s “snakes in the grass, it’s time to cut the lawn.” Rumor has it, a remix is on the way featuring Lil’ Kim herself and hip-hop newcomer Cardi B.

“Caution” comes to a true climax by track six, where Carey unleashes an instant classic, potentially career defining song. “Giving Me Life” soothes you in with a hazy beat and gritty synthesizers before the songstress does what she does best- take her listeners on a sonic journey with her carefully chosen lyrics and thoughtful delivery.

On “Giving Me Life,” that journey happens to revolve around reviving a romance with an old flame – as Carey asks the accompanying Slick Rick, “If you’re so inclined, let’s take a ride tonight.”

Carey has been making media rounds to promote the album, stopping by Good Morning America, Jimmy Fallon and Watch What Happens Live to promote her material. It’s the first time she’s been making headlines in years for her music, a nice change of pace for fans of Carey the musician.

She’s become increasingly known as Carey the diva, a diva whose unfortunate slip-ups have dominated her public persona as of late.

It’s not hard for anyone with even a limited pulse on social media to recall the firestorm of criticism and jokes pointed at Carey following her infamous 2014 Rockefeller Tree Lighting performance. The situation was exacerbated by disgruntled sound engineers, who leaked the isolated vocals of the singer struggling to reach her signature high notes. TMZ reports that the issue came after Carey opted to ditch rehearsal in favor of meeting with divorce lawyers. She’s defended the performance since, saying she had bronchitis.

Two years later, her showing at Dick Clark’s Rockin New Year’s Eve resulted in an even more disastrous outcome when her in-ear monitors failed, causing the performance to spiral out of control.

She appeared to not be able to hear anything in the song essentially spent the seven or so minutes on stage walking while “We Belong Together” (recorded vocals and everything) echoed through Times Square.

Needless to say, mockery ensued and has not quieted – even after an incredible performance the following year.

That professional turmoil, combined with a messy divorce and a broken engagement made for a harrowing period– and to the fans’ (or the Lambily, as they call themselves) delight, Carey emerges unaffected in her triumphant return to music.

Well, for the most part. There are points during “Caution” where a hint of melancholy can be detected– primarily in the introspective closing track, “Portrait.” It’s a mellower vibe than the rest of the record, but its soft vocals and light piano accompaniment fit alongside many of her intimate fan favorites.

Aside from that, her fifteenth LP glazes over her missteps, instead opting to be optimistic, mature and forward-thinking.

“They just wanna be us,” Carey belts on her Ty-Dolla Sign assisted “The Distance.” “They don’t wanna see us going the distance,” Ty-Dolla Sign replying with a bold “Fuck all the comments- they be so toxic”– a direct message to her haters, disguised in a glittery pop song.

And it’s that Carey–class that makes “Caution” so refreshing. It’s not vindictive. It’s not dramatic. The priority here is clearly the music– something Mariah Carey – despite the mishaps and image – happens to be pretty good at.

Comments

About Matthew Fortin

Associate Arts and Life Editor