Mariah Carey – “Me. I Am Mariah… the Elusive Chanteuse”

(Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “You’re Mine (Eternal)” “Money ($ * / …)

Mariah Carey has worked herself into an interesting point in her career – she’s already heralded as one of the most successful and talented pop singers, ever. So there’s a few directions she could go – she could sit back and enjoy all of the reaped benefits, or she could keep putting out albums that challenge other singers to get to her level. She doesn’t need to do anything too ambitious or original, especially as a pop/R&B singer. She’s just keeping active and adding more notches to her career. And that’s exactly what her fourteenth album is – it’s a collection of personal and reflective songs that feel right at home with her other works.

Of course the most important thing to analyze on any Carey album is her voice, even though it never falters. Carey, famously, has a five octave vocal range, which is almost inhuman. There are times on this album where, had I been playing the songs louder, her vocals would’ve upset the neighborhood dogs. Carey’s voice is as strong as it’s ever been, like on “Camouflage,” where different octaves are layered over each other until she becomes her own back-up singer. And on “You’re Mine (Eternal),” where her voice gets looped at the closing, into a slightly haunting drone. All throughout, her voice remains smooth and high flying, hitting extreme highs sparingly (to allow those moments to shine), and sounding typically relaxed and polished through every song.

There’s four effective guest spots on the album, all of which add some energy at the right times. “Dedicated” is saved from being too murky by an all too brief appearance from greatest rapper of all-time Nas, and the follow-up, “#Beautiful,” is helped by Miguel. Wale anchors “You Don’t Know What to Do” surprisingly well, and adds some much needed energy after a number of midtempo songs. And towards the album’s end, Fabolous delivers a strong spot on the extremely unfortunately titled “Money ($ * / …)” (I have no idea how to pronounce that title). For the most part, the guest spots are spread out, so they can provide some kicks throughout, and so it doesn’t get too bogged down at any point.

The album does have it’s faults, most of which lie more in the structure and the make-up of the album rather than in the songs themselves. As mentioned, there’s that terrible song title, which should be something to overlook, but I can’t get over it. And there’s the title: “Me. I Am Mariah… the Elusive Chanteuse.” The title track and last song is actually spoken word, with Mariah explaining what it means. “Me. I Am Mariah” is a self-portrait she drew when she was a child, that shows up on the album’s back cover, and “The Elusive Chanteuse” is the most recent of many nicknames she’s been given. They both have significance, and they both make excellent titles, but put them together and you have what will be a $2000 Jeopardy! question someday. (Also, I’m glad Carey takes time to explain the title on a spoken word track and I wish there was a way for it to fit less awkwardly into the album). The album’s 62 minutes and 15 tracks is hefty, too, especially considering she delayed the release when some early songs didn’t catch on with the public. There’s a lot of great tracks here, but there’s some dead weight, too, and it should’ve been cut. It’s daunting to the point where it’s far too overlong.

Structural issues aside, it’s great to see Carey still be herself. And there’s a lot of her on this album – its lyrics reflect back on the highs and lows of her life thus far. It’s personal and open, sometimes fun and sometimes contemplative. There’s a George Michael cover, and an ode to Reverend James Cleveland in the gospel choir finale “Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can’t Give Up Now).” “Me. I Am Mariah” isn’t a wholly fulfilling album, but it succeeds with it’s diversity, flowing through different genres and emotions, while never straying too far away from a consistent pop/R&B sound. Carey shows she’s still as powerful as she was in 1991. She can belt like no one else, and she’s hit a point where she can do whatever she wants. And she’s very comfortable with that.

-By Andrew McNally

Wale – “The Gifted Season”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “The Curse of the Gifted,” “Gullible (feat. Cee-lo Green)”

Washington D.C.-based rapper Wale is showing a lot of promise on his third official full-length, “The Gifted.” There is a feeling of maturity on the album, a sense that Wale wants to be taken seriously as a musician, which is a tough barrier for a young rapper to overcome. He is still young though, and a fun-loving sense of immaturity bleeds through the record, in really enjoyable ways. While some tracks are tight and serious, some are loose club jams, and they all blend together to make a diverse album where nearly every track stands out from the previous, even if some are not overly creative.

Wale toys with a few rap cliches on the album, all of which are gleefully effective. The album’s leadoff single, “Bad,” is the last track of the album. But a remix of the song (featuring Rihanna), shows up seven tracks earlier, and even though the two versions sound very similar, the remix serves as an actual track and not something tagged on the end to extend the album’s running time. The album’s title – “The Gifted” – is a play on egotism in rap (and the album dropped only one week after Kanye West’s “Yeezus”), as Wale’s goal for the album is to try to establish himself as a musician, not to gloat about his previous work and success. The album’s best cliche is the second-to-last track, where Wale teases at his next project. But instead of teasing at a proper duet, like Watch the Throne, he teases at “The Album About Nothing,” an album – that’s actually happening – that he is recording with Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld appears on the tease, showing up to the wrong recording. It’s a great moment that sets up an album that will probably be a great and glorious mess.

At seventy minutes, the album does feel long. It takes some effort to make it all the way through. Some fat could have been trimmed, and maybe one or two of the less mature tracks could have been cut. Getting to the track with Seinfeld and “Bad” is a pay-off at the end, but the album does not need to be as long as it is. Still, it is a solid and creative effort from a man trying to prove his place in the music world. I think he succeeds.

-By Andrew McNally