Monday, June 2, 2014

Me. I Am Mariah - Album Review


I have been a Mariah Carey fan since "Vision of Love" was first released in 1989. Since her first television appearance, on the Arsenio Hall Show back in 1990. Since listening to "Love Takes Time" on cassette at 6th grade parties, and before I even hit the age of 12. I therefore have been inherently trained to love and appreciate this elusive chanteuse.

In fact, I am so embedded in the Mariah Carey style of music and performance, that I truly believe she can do no wrong. I buy all of her albums. I go to all of her Toronto concerts, and I have a good number of her piano sheet music books (based on the albums), so that I can recreate the music on my own.

Naturally, my appreciation for song writing, for music composition, and for pop/R&B music is fundamentally based on the style, performance, and overall execution of this woman's music. Unapologetically.

Needless to say, I purchased her 14th studio album "Me. I Am Mariah" on the day of its release last week and literally breathed a physical sigh of relief at the sound of her first track. It has been 5 years since she has released an album (Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel - 2009), and truthfully, if it weren't for Instagram promotion from her and long-time collaborator Jermaine Dupri, I'm not sure I would have even know she HAD an album coming out.

But I'm thankful, because hearing this album is like a musical continuation for me. Her music has been so much a part of my life's soundtrack, that it is only fitting that the next installment of her creations were perfectly aligned with my current musical tastes, my expectations, and my thought processes.

There is something about her musical emotion, vulnerability, and composition that always strikes a chord with me. Whether the reviews are strong, the songs hit the charts, or the tour is a success...her music has a niche in my life that is consistently spiritually fulfilling. Mainly because I love music, and also because I love the consistency, the continuity, and the ongoing story and development of her life as a woman, and as an artist.

Here are a few brief thoughts about each of the 18 tracks on the album, along with notable lyrics from the songs:

TRACK 01 - CRY
"Imprudently, I left every cell in me so naked..."
I literally pulled this song up about 4 times when I first listened to the album. It was so fundamentally "Mariah" that I was just happy to hear her still sounding strong and pure, still sounding consistent, and still coming up with a simple beautiful melody with a rich piano accompaniment and lyrics that would resonate with anyone. Love this song.

TRACK 02 - FADED
"So intangible, just like an echo..."
Again, a classic Mariah sound: smooth R&B vocals with a slight hip hop edge.

TRACK 03 - DEDICATED
"Tell me where the melody went..."
Nice to hear Nas on this track, as one of my all time favourite Mariah songs is "Make it Last" remix with Nas on it. This is not my favourite song on the album...kinda just average.

TRACK 04 - #BEAUTIFUL
"You're beautiful, and your mind is f-ing beautiful..."
The guitar intro is really nice, and this has a classic soulful yet funky Prince sound, featuring Miguel. It's a forgettable song, but still a decent composition. Looks like it had already been released, and I'm not surprised that I didn't hear it until now. Timely with the Miguel collab, but not necessarily a #1 hit.

TRACK 05 - THIRSTY
"Stunting on your Instagram, but that shit ain't everything..."
I think this song has the potential to be a hit, maybe one of the biggest hits on the album in fact. It has an immediate bounce, and sounds more current than the other songs on the album. I love the harmonies in the chorus, it's very catchy right away, and another song that I rewind a few times consecutively because I love the feel-good vibe to it.

TRACK 06 - MAKE IT LOOK GOOD
"Fingertips on my hips as we dip..."
This is an old school doo-wop song, sweet, with sweet lyrics. It's a great song that could easily still be on a chart or two if released with the right video.

TRACK 07 - YOU'RE MINE (ETERNAL)
"Springtime eyes that get you every time..."
This ballad has a nice groove to it; again, a classic Mariah sound, easy to sing along to, and traditional lyrics.

TRACK 08 - YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO
"I feel brand new, since you turned me loose..."
This song has an awesome piano intro with Mariah belting out her words, but then it gets real weird when Wale jumps on the track. It's a dance/pop/disco mix that I don't feel 100%. I don't love this song, but it's amazing what a great video and remix can do. I hope that with a little reworking, Wale can do this song more justice.

TRACK 09 - SUPERNATURAL
"Beautiful as you lay, all my tears dissipate..."
How sweet is this song? Featuring Mariah's children (with husband Nick Cannon, Roc n Roe), it's a nice declaration of family, love, and the combination of instruments and sounds definitely communicating her feelings and the theme of supernatural love. I love Mariah's voice in this song, it's that tone and that clarity that only she can hit.

TRACK 10 - METEORITE
"You got the night to light up the sky..."
I found this one a bit odd, a disco/funk combination. You can tell Mariah is a child of the 70s because she often goes back to the sounds of that ear. It doesn't always translate to a modern-day hit, but I feel that this is her natural essence as she seems to enjoy singing this genre, and does it well.

TRACK 11 - CAMOUFLAGE
"Wear it sometimes when I try to discern our reality..."
This is a really pretty ballad that sounds like it could be on a movie soundtrack, or a part of a phenomenal video. The chorus has a real 90s feel to it, and the piano is perfect, as per usual. The definite highlight of this song is the small addition of the choir...LOVE that element!

TRACK 12 - MONEY
"I dream the impossible dream of you and I alone..."
Sounds like a real summer track, featuring Fabolous. An easy groove while driving with the windows down, surely. It's pleasant.

TRACK 13 - ONE MORE TRY
"Cause teacher, there are things that I don't want to learn..."
Boy was I happy when I heard the intro organs and chord progression and realized that Mariah was remaking George Michael's 1988 hit from his "Faith" album! This song can do no wrong, and count on Mariah to remake the perfect retro hit. Love, love, love her rendition of this song and think it was a fabulous choice of cover for this album!

TRACK 14 - HEAVENLY
"I don't believe he brought me this far to leave me..."
This song is an absolute gem, a feel-good spiritual track featuring a sick choir, rich background vocals, and Mariah in her soulful glory. I love when she takes it to the church, because I can tell that her spirit relaxes and her voice really embraces these type of tunes. Love this one, and hope it also makes the charts because it's an uplifting and inspirational composition that she has come to perfect over the years.

TRACK 15 - IT'S A WRAP
"If I ever misrepresented my self image, then I'm sorry..."
How cute are Mary J. Blige and Mariah on this track together? This is a repeat, from her 2009 "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" album, and a really nice R&B sister-to-sister confession song. I enjoy it, and enjoy the banter from Mary at the beginning. It makes my respect and admiration for both of them grow. Especially when I think of how far they have both come publically, and musically, and the fact that they joined together to recreate this song.

TRACK 16 - BETCHA GON' KNOW
"You were supposed to save me..."
I freakin LOVE this song!! I loved it on her last album, and it now goes through the roof with the addition of R. Kelly this time around. Love the piano. Love the beat. Love the lyrics. Love the energy. Everything about this song is fabulous, and I would love nothing more than for the two of them to do an R. Kelly style dramatic narrative-type video to this song. I wanted it to be released the last time around, and hope that they do it this time!

TRACK 17 - THE ART OF LETTING GO
"Evidently your words were merely lies reverberating in my ears, and the echo won't subside..."
Mariah defaults to a classic R&B style with this track. It's pretty, it has a current enough sound, while still staying true to her old school soul roots.

TRACK 18 - AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
"For purple mountains majesties..."
So lovely of Mariah to belt her heart out on this one. I figure she may have recorded this traditional American anthem to demonstrate to all the younger female singers out there how it's done. Many have tried, but a very few number of divas have performed these classics in a memorable way. Mariah is one of them (along with Whitney, and BeyoncĂ©, etc.). It's clean and soulful, and it's great to have a recording of this (football games aside) that can be listened to for years to come. Great way to end the album.

I'm convinced, there is and will not be a bigger singer of our era who has stood the impossible test of Hollywood time, space, and success. We've had Whitney, and of course there's BeyoncĂ©, Mary J, and Alicia Keys. In my lifetime there have definitely been better performers than Mariah, better personalities, and better gimmicks. There have been Lady Gaga's and Katy Perry's, and Ashanti's, Adele's and Ariana Grande's. There have been Kelly Rowland's, and Rihanna's, and many female artists who have been phenomenal, sang and presented amazing material, and have really impressed me with their work.

My main appreciation for Mariah, aside from nostalgic adolescent memories of playing her cassettes and studying her piano music, is that she has never been about gimmicks, or fanfare, or trends, or hype. She has always been about the SINGING. From day one. Some love her, some can't stand her....some songs have been mega hits, and others have flopped big time. Her career has had many peaks and valleys, and we have seen her fluctuate in weight and maybe even performance ability at times...and we've sometimes even questioned her sanity.

But one thing is certain, this woman can SING, and her brand and image can be solely judged on the fact that for the past 25 years she has stayed at the top of her game. Even if it's difficult for me to find someone else willing to pay a couple hundred dollars for prime seats at her concert, or if I have to search for someone else in my network who's already listened to the album and can discuss it with me...I will still remain a fan.

At her core, Mariah Carey's musical presence in my life has been a staple, and I anticipate that it will always be this way. Sometimes I don't think she gets enough credit for being consistent, for living a high profile life relatively scandal free, for being a true legend of our time, and for maintaining good values along the way.

Is this my favourite Mariah album? Definitely not. But I like it. And it's been playing in my car for a week now, and I'm still enjoying it. It's a perfect piece in the story that is her musical catalogue and continuous journey so here I am, yet again, giving this woman credit. Not because this album blew me away, but because her career has.

She is my favourite recording artist to this day, and I really am grateful for the spiritual boost her album gave me this week. It went straight to my soul, it made me feel good, it had me pulling up tracks 3 and 4 times just to hear her hit those notes again...and I didn't expect it to do anything less than that. For that is what is has always done.

Long live Mariah! She's incredible. Still.

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