“It wasn’t really much, it wasn’t really much at all” coos the confident singer-songwriter Mariah Carey seamlessly on standout track “Giving Me Life” from her latest LP, ‘Caution’. Twenty eight years officially into her commercial career, Carey has been a household name for several generations. Her timeless catalog spawns eighteen number one singles (seventeen of which she wrote herself), the most for any solo artist in music history. She also boasts six number one albums, five Grammy Awards, and the holiday standard in “All I Want for Christmas Is You”. To say this legend hasn’t already been a staple for music of all genres would be understatement. Unfortunately, in the wake of her most viewed tepid performances, Carey doesn’t receive half the credit she deserves in our current generation.
Following a less-than-stellar live rendition of her Christmas tune in 2014 and a production debacle, wrongly labeled as a lip-sync fail from New Years Eve 2016, many thought Mariah’s career was over. Sadly for them, they don’t know Mariah. Carey has been down this road of obscurity before; her 2001 film and soundtrack, Glitter, were both critical and commercial failures. Many ruled her career to be over until her 2005 mega hit, The Emancipation of Mimi, which sold an excess of 12 million copies worldwide. Ironically, the formerly panned Glitter soundtrack, reached #1 on the iTunes album chart the week of Caution’s release, largely impart to Carey’s fans starting the hashtag “#JusticeForGlitter”, redeeming the album from the ridicule it had wrongfully been associated with (the album was released on September 11, 2001). Add that to her most acclaimed tour in years, a Golden Globe nomination, and a recent nomination for the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and Carey is enjoying the present state of her career.
So where does her newest release, Caution, fit into all of this? Shockingly enough, it doesn’t fit… it creates its own space. Carey’s fifteenth studio album varies from her previous releases as it doesn’t bend achingly on overly emotional ballads, melodramatic climaxes, or songs exceeding four minutes in duration. At ten tracks and 38 minutes in length, Mimi proves she can keep things simple if needed. This displays her intuitive nature to current music which features slick production, trendy jargon, and minimal length. Perhaps the most shocking pleasure of ‘Caution’ is how current the album feels. Unlike her previous album, the oh-so-misunderstood-and-underappreciated Me. I Am Mariah…, none of the songs sound like they are from years prior. Caution sounds in the heart of 2018 and fully able to ride the wave into 2019. Mimi carefully crafts herself with producers of the present, such as DJ Mustard, Skrillex, and No I.D., while also calling up nostalgic game changers like Timbaland and her good friend, Jermaine Dupri.
The album’s opener, “GTFO”, is a carefully crafted kiss-off over a sensual beat that feels it could’ve been on Drake’s “Scorpion” opus earlier this summer. That, along with the album’s weakest moment, “With You”, are previously released tracks to give fans a teaser of what was to come. “With You” is perhaps the closest replica of any past Carey balladry on the album, but plays it far too safe on an album that does anything but. After all, risk taking is what made Mariah the queen of the late 90s and early 2000s to begin with. Her ability to do so soars on gems such as Ty Dolla $ign assisted “The Distance” and the sexy “One Mo’ Gen”. The album’s title track, “Caution”, serves as a breezy transition into the album’s centerpiece, the banger “A No No”. Built around a sample of Lil’ Kim’s “Crush On You”, Carey’s sass is at an all-time higher, along the lines of the “Shake It Off” days. Don’t be surprised if this one becomes a radio hit after the holiday season. It’s that good!
Elsewhere on the album, Carey pens infectious lyrics to coincide with her dreamy production. Her and Timbaland tackle preteen love vibes on the standout “8th Grade” that takes you back to the 90s melodically. She trades verses with current top charter Gunna on the summer-sounding jam that is “Stay Long Love You”. And standing right next to “A No No” is the album’s secret weapon: “Giving Me Life”. Together with Slick Rick and Blood Orange, Carey pays homage to idol Marilyn Monroe and diva legend Barbra Streisand. The album’s closer, “Portrait”, provides a revealing glimpse at a woman whose experienced her fair share of heartache over the past four years, a trend for Carey’s album closers.
It is highly unlikely that in 2018, Mariah Carey will find herself back at the top of the album or singles charts. Those days are realistically far behind her. However, it is not ruled impossible for her to make an addictive body of work so late into her stellar career. Caution is proof that like fine wine, true talent ages effortlessly. ‘Caution’ may be forgotten about a month from now and surely isn’t quite to the level of albums such as The Emancipation of Mimi or Butterfly, but it’s so damn good that it deserves to still be in the conversation of Carey’s most respected works. Proceed with Caution and take note: The Queen is back… and if the lambs have they’re way, she’s coming back for her crown.