Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (Island)
Nineteen years into her career, Mariah Carey remains almost uncannily consistent. Though she’s had her ups and downs, she is, at this stage, neither a bloated self-parody nor a long-timer settling into a comfortable groove of second-tier irrelevance. Instead, she’s what she always was—an immensely talented singer and songwriter who is also the apotheosis of MOR. So thoroughly does she embody easy listening that she transforms everything she touches. A shout-out to ODB? A handful of dancehall oh-oh-ohs? Even, believe it or not, marching-band arrangements? All of it turns seamlessly to sugary smooth radio gold—“Candy Bling” as one particularly appropriate song title puts it.
Some may sneer at the plastic artificiality of it all; Jim DeRogatis, for example, whined his indie-rock whine about how Mariah’s too corporate because she has Elle ads in her CD. And, yeah, it’s true—she’s not torn up over her success like Kurt Cobain was. But perhaps in part for that reason, she’s been able to stick around, and so we have songs like “H.A.T.E.U,” a languid break-up ballad begging for a change that never comes. “I can’t wait to hate you,” she sings in harmony with herself, hitting her inevitable whistle-register notes like overdetermined cries of pain. The familiarity is comfort and ache both at once—the sadness and joy of still, still, still being yourself. Mariah really does make more sense the longer she stays at it, laying down the same surface over and over with painstaking craft, until even our shallowest dreams and hurts seem to echo with depth.