Mariah Carey is in survivor mode. She's cutting down shrubbery and eating fried ferrets in the distopian wilderness that is 21st Century Pop. Trying to maintain footing in a world where she's the last of her peers (RIP Whitney Houston) and where miniature replicas of her (Ariana Grande) are being touted to replace her. It's clearly a wild world for female pop stars who never are allowed the privilege to age gracefully in the business (because...sexism) or never allowed to be anything but Beyonce (because...Illuminati), but Carey sips champagne, swats away the mosquito bite of her dissenters, and clings on tight with her 14th installment.
As much as the album title is a stinker, this is far away from the isolating mess that was 2009's Memoirs of An Imperfect Angel or even the thrown together snooze of E=MC2. In a way Elusive Chanteuse is the album everyone demanded that they wanted, but nobody wants to admit because Mariah is not in the '90s gaze, and the songs aren't as vibrant or remotely interesting as one would want. Elusive is really a sprawling, retrospective of Carey's hopscotch career, and she sticks like Gorilla Glue to the genres and melodies she, and her fans, know best. Its got gospel, its got melodic pop, its got chopped n' screwy R&B, there's some throwback feels, and even an experimental number is test driven. It's a mixed bag of treats for every fan to dig in and sample. It's a Starburst bag of variety though, as from my end there is a lot of orange and yellow pieces, and a lot less pink and red, but it's still candy, still sugar, still obviously Mariah-y, and there are a few things I do appreciate about this project. Let's chew on some...
Absolutely the best damn thing Mariah Carey has done since "Breakdown". Yep. I said it. Q-Tip put some serious game changing stank on this as Mariah sputters to life when she's given the funky space reincarnation that is "Meteorite". I truly wish Q-Tip had taken over full production for the album because THIS is the ~ elusive ~ patch on the album. THIS is the experimental route most want Mariah to take, and while it's fleeting, it flickers and ignites with an Eddie Kendricks sample in tow, and believe me I had an out-of-body experience when this popped on. If Mariah ever needed a lifesaver to help her career, she's got it with this banger. Problem though is that this is so left-field nobody will have the cajones to properly release this or even know how to handle this if they ever heard it on mainstream radio. It's too abstract and too massive, but maybe I'm underestimating? Still this song gives me life along with the elixir that is Q-Tip's lounging twilight remix which is the sultry summer stunner you didn't know you needed.
"Supernatural" could have easily been an Emancipation of Mimi cast-off, and in a way it sounds all too familiar ("We Belong Together" anyone?), but it's oh so easy to cuddle into as it's old school Mariah lovey-dovey through and through as it floats on a shimmering cotton candied cloud of rhythm and blues that is set-up perfectly by Bryan Michael-Cox and Jermaine Dupri. This whole song just comes together so deliciously (unlike the harmonica jumble that is "Make It Look Good") and it's my second favorite offering on this set. Of course the guest spotting of Dem Babies, Monroe and Moroccan is Gymboree gooey, as her three-year-old twins wiggle in with signing and baby talk, but who cares? Their inclusion and their giggles are nothing short of adorable and ovaries will burst and icy hearts will melt at the sound of them harmonizing along with Mommy Mariah.
You Don't Know What To Do
Pretty much this song title is the theme to this song itself, as nobody knows that this is single material and "Thirsty" (the album's true first single) is not. I've discussed this before but it works my nerves that Mariah was sitting on "You Don't Know What To Do" while releasing the likes of the Miguel-guested, "#Beautiful" (which strangely went from great to awful in a year) and "You're Mine (Eternal)" is mystery in itself. And yes, I'm mad as hell and can't take Wale anymore as he comes in drunk and disorderly killing the Cheryl Lynn "Star Love" moment that Mariah is seriously channeling at the beginning. From there it dips off into the shimmering disco gloss of this hit single that is just waiting to happen.
Don't get me wrong. I like Mariah when she gets into the nitty-gritty of trap happy R&B --- but only when she's doing it alone. "Faded" is a prime example of what can happen when Mariah loses the crutch of a babbling rapper and can create steady bounce magic as an island. Even though it really doesn't go anywhere, I appreciate that she makes a melodic R&B number where she doesn't over-sing (a problem with a lot of her recent material) while adding in those signature whistle notes as a topper.
Fix It Jesus
Going from sexual healing to Jesus receiving is what a Mariah Carey album is all about, and Elusive Chanteuse stomps the pews in multiple places. I have to put change in the collection plate for "Cry." as it attempts to rebuild the house that she somewhat set fire to from her last two albums, and brick by brick, with controlled delicacy she fills things back in. Love love that she doesn't press her vocals for this one. "Camouflage" is also another number that allows Mariah's voice ample room to roam, and she captures the acapella spirit a la "Vanishing" with careful care. While she Carey-oke'd her way through a mawkish reading of George Michael's "One More Try", her dedication to the late Rev. James Cleveland is where she shines as "Heavenly (No Ways Tired/Can't Give Up Now)" has her vocality at a regal pace, and her adding of a notable MaryMary number is a lovely touch. These gospel flashes might isolate a few listeners, but they are key pieces in aiding Mariah towards vocal redemption, and well, she fixed it Jesus, she fixed it.
This past Saturday something pretty old school awesome happened. No not my 'elderly' San Antonio Spurs putting the Oklahoma City Thunder through a basketball clinic to become Western Conference Champs for the second time in a row (huzzah!), but Mariah Carey snagging a primetime slot on NBC to broadcast the special, Mariah Carey at Home. Yes, a music special. On a Saturday night. That is about as old school as it can get. I was rolling on the floor and tearing my hair out while watching the Western Conference finals so I missed it in live time, but I kind of smiled during my online viewing of it, as Mariah sat down with Matt "Lizard" Lauer for a one-on-one interview and gave a mini-concert in the backyard of her Bel-Air home.
Mariah has had a history of doing these specials, and well, MTV did a lot of them with her before they decided they were allergic to music, so this special brought back warm memories of finding a spot on an already crammed VHS tape for the Homecoming and Shining Through The Rain specials and watch as Mariah works the microphone and her signature 'chanteuse' hand wave. Mariah doesn't really disclose anything "omg bombshell" in her conversations sans candid discussions about her pregnancy and motherhood, but it was just nice, just gosh darn nice that some vintage album promotion was pulled out for this project and that Mariah, whether you love her or hate her or wish she'd stop with the Disney Princess show that is her life, still believes in being her zany and glittery ostentatious self. That's true survival, dahling.
Release Date: May 23, 2014
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon || Stream: Spotify