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Carey returns with her tightest album in years

“Caution” builds upon the diva’s tried and true formula

Written By Mike Stinelli, News Editor

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The end of 2016 found Mariah Carey ringing in the new year under intense scrutiny. A televised performance plagued with technical mishaps led her to walk off stage, declaring, “It just don’t get any better,” as valiant backup dancers attempted to salvage what was left of the show. 

The New York Times called it “a debacle of a performance that could be a contender for the Mount Rushmore of live-television moments.” Clips spread over Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, garnering millions of views and thousands of mocking
comments.

One year later, Carey returned to Times Square.

Standing in the frigid cold in a white fur coat, Carey sang some of her earliest and most demanding ballads. There were no backup dancers, no props and minimal choreography. Yet she commanded the stage, hitting each iconic run with precision and grace. The only complaint was a meme-worthy comment from Carey herself: “They told me there’d be tea. Oh, it’s a disaster.”

The redemption was a perfect encapsulation of Carey’s career status, now a post-diva OG who refuses to leave, who endures all humiliation, an arbiter who’s ushered in generations of pop stars, from the breathy Camila Cabello to the belting Ariana Grande. 

Her newest release, “Caution,” finds Carey in familiar territory. It’s a series of love stories of varying tumult, from the instant-classic kiss-off of “GTFO” to the swaggering warning of the title track. It runs at a succinct 38 minutes, her shortest album since 1994’s “Merry Christmas.” It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it makes no attempts at such renewal. Rather, it serves as another phase of sonic rejuvenation, placing the popstar alongside some of the best contemporary producers in hip-hop and pop.

It’s an impressive roster, ranging from veteran beat maker No I.D. to Justin Bieber collaborator
Poo Bear. 

“Giving Me Life” is the record’s standout collaboration. Featuring the sleek keys and Dilla-inspired drums of Blood Orange, Carey slinks effortlessly through the song before Slick Rick appears for an impossibly smooth eight bars. It’s one of a career-full of curated rap guest spots, from Nas in 2014’s “Dedicated” to Jeezy on 2008’s “Side Effects.”

The song ends with a sizzling outro, with Carey crooning over searing guitars and an atmospheric keyboard. 

The undisputed banger of the album is “A No No,” a bouncy stunt produced by Shea Taylor, whose past productions include Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” and Beyonce’s “Countdown.” The track is a hair flip at the haters, the roster of which is too many to accumulate at this point, and offers subtle jabs alongside stylish brags. 

“Rockin’ Dior ‘cause it goes with my diamonds, got a pink gown custom by Alaïa,” Carey boasts in a tribute to her late friend, designer Azzedine Alaïa.

The main problem the album suffers from is the stagnation in Carey’s subject matter. After a nearly 30-year career, the songstress still appears unable to sing about anything other than love, heartbreak, sex and shade. She’s at her best when she lets her voice shine, but the lackluster lyrics cause the album to drag in its second half. “One More Gen” doesn’t have legs to stand on, and “8th Grade” is a forgettable inclusion. 

The record picks back up with “Stay Long Love You.” The track’s rubbery 808s keep the drums afloat while Carey turns “You make me, make me wanna touch you right there” into an irresistible earworm. Up-and-coming rapper Gunna makes an uninspired appearance, and delivers his potential partner the disturbing promise, “I take care you like a son.”

Altogether, the album’s strength is in both its brevity and its cohesion. “Caution” clocks in at her fifteenth studio album, and with a back catalogue of that breadth, it would be easy for Carey to overstay her welcome. She doesn’t come close, and the album feels like a properly curated project rather than a collection of singles and filler. 

It takes one look at the cover art to see how this album fits into Carey’s legacy. There’s no bizarre digital backdrop, no flashy typography. Instead, a simple close-up dawns the record’s cover, showing us that it’s the same Mariah as always, refined and not going
anywhere.

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