Mariah Carey’s ‘Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse’: Album Review

Forget about the ridiculous title, botched rollout and highly questionable cover art. Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse is an incredibly solid LP that makes much more sense as a complete body of work than the long trail of mystifying buzz singles would have you believe. It’s a concept album of sorts, a loving stroll through the history of R&B — from the Motown era to the ‘90s, with detours through disco and early hip-hop. The emphasis is on real instruments (as opposed to samples and synths), which gives Mariah Carey‘s precious pipes room to shine.Sounds pretty good, right? Well, it mostly is but The Elusive Chanteuse is also one of the great diva’s least accessible albums. With the exception of current single “Thirsty” and Wale-assisted bop “You Don’t Know What To Do”, there are no bright, sparkly pop moments for radio to latch on to and the album’s backwards-glancing production occasionally comes across as more dated than nostalgic. It doesn’t help that most of the songs are sprawling mid-tempo grooves or ballads, which will, no doubt, resonate with fans of the golden age of R&B but cause others to tune out.

So where does that leave you? With an album that takes time to seep under your skin. There’s little instant gratification but, if you’re patient, the songs become richer and deeper with each listen. Take “The Art Of Letting Go”. The LP’s former title track (it’s now relegated to the deluxe edition) sounded like a wordy, tune-less mess when it came and went in late 2013. In context, however, the rambling Darkchild-produced mantra really comes into its own and, now, I can’t imagine a Mimi playlist without it.

Not that every song takes six months to appreciate. “#Beautiful” is still the breeziest piece of retro-R&B flavored pop to hit the airwaves in recent memory and it sounds right at home among Motown-referencing gems like the silky smooth “Make It Look Good” and smoky piano ballad “Cry” — a song that capture’s the 44-year-old’s voice at full flight. Her instrument hasn’t sounded this strong, versatile and nuanced in at least a decade.

Mariah also finds fertile creative ground by revisiting the ‘70s. She has been dipping into disco since “Fantasy” but never as faithfully as the roller rink-ready “Meteorite” and above-mentioned “You Don’t Know What To Do”, which starts off as a slow jam before transforming into a Donna Summer-worthy floorfiller complete with lashings of strings. Both songs are hugely enjoyable and strangely on-trend given the genre’s revival thanks to Daft Punk and Justin Timberlake. As far as future singles go, either one of these is a pretty safe bet.

Speaking of hits, “Thirsty” is one of the few cuts that sounds very much of the here and now with its sassy, meme-spawning lyrics and catchy hooks. It’s exceedingly cute and lightens up the sometimes heavy-going set. The Hit-Boy-produced party anthem certainly fares a lot better than the other contemporary R&B song “Faded”, which sounds like something Mike Will Made-It rescued from Bangerz. That’s not a compliment.

An absolute must-hear is Mimi’s surprising cover of George Michael’s 1988 chart-topper “One More Try”. It’s simultaneously faithful to the original and completely her own. (Keep your fingers crossed that they perform a duet version one of these days). Another unexpected delight is Fabolous-assisted jam “Money”. It’s pays homage to the ‘90s without sounding like a museum relic — a fate that unfortunately befalls cuts like “Dedicated”, “Camouflage”, “You’re Mine (Eternal)” and Dem Babies-featuring “Supernatural”.

Best Song That Wasn’t The Single: “Meteorite” or “You Don’t Know What To Do” followed by “One More Try”.

Full Disclosure: This is a huge improvement on Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel but nothing on the LP matches the genius of “Standing O”.

Idolator Score: 4/5

Mike Wass