It's been five years since Mariah released an album of new material, and that album was what many believe to be her career's nadir point, Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel. That flop was followed by a Christmas album, yet another Best Of album (her fourth to date), hired Randy Jackson to manage her career, as well as a marriage and the arrival of twins. So it's not as if she's JUST been on an extended holiday, but this time away sounds like it has helped Carey refocus on what it is that she's good at, and what it is that her fans love her for, namely That Voice singing R'n'B.
Harking back to a level of quality that she hasn't reached since her 2005 comeback The Emancipation Of Mimi, sharing that album's executive producer Jermaine Dupri, as well as some new big name collaborators such as Hit-Boy (Kayne West, Jay-Z), Mike Will MADE It (Miley Cyrus, Rihanna) and Rodney Jerkins (Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton). Despite these heavy hitting producers, the album has been a stop-start production, with first single "Triumphant (Get 'Em)" nowhere to be found, and later single "The Art Of Letting Go" only available on the deluxe edition of the album.
Perhaps the reason for this is because The Elusive Chanteuse finds Mariah at her most old school, sounding like she's given up trying to sound current, and just doing what she does best. Kicking off with torch-ballad "Cry", it's like we've never left the early 90's, with Mariah and a piano and a broken heart. "Faded" finds the diva pouring her feelings out over old photographs and a hip-hop tinged slow jam. Meanwhile, if given the opportunity, "Camouflage" could potentially be looked back upon with the same regard as "Vision Of Love" or "Hero" as one of THE great Mariah Carey love songs, even if it is about that love coming to an end.
It's not all downbeat, thankfully. "Dedicated" is a celebration of the era when Mariah was at her most relevant, both in terms of lyrics ('That's how we do it, cos this is how we did it back then') and the appearance of Nas for an uncharacteristically upbeat cameo. "#Beautiful", the one and only surviving official single, is still a gorgeous, guitar driven duet with the equally caramel voiced Miguel.
Aggressive and pissed off on "Thirsty", a non-specific call out on some former lover, perhaps having learned her lesson from "Obsessed" which resulted in Eminem scorching the Earth with her and Nick Cannon. Something that wouldn't have been out of place on The Great Gatsby soundtrack, "Make It Look Good" is a big band, wedding-in-a-ballroom-sounding number, kicked off with a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo. Latest potential single fodder "You Don't Know What To Do" starts off with a solid minute of Mariah giving it socks all by herself, before the 70s funk drops in, all stuttering drums, independent woman lyrics, and a fun rap verse from Wale.
Album highlight has got to be "Meteorite", produced by fellow 90s stalwart Q-Tip, starting out with Mariah quoting Andy Warhol, before seguing into an incredibly infectious beat of conga drums and hand claps, and Carey singing about her lover who can light up the sky, which itself then segues into a warped and clipped chorus of 'Meteor-ite-ite-ite!" which, like all Mariah's best upbeat songs, was custom built for singing along to at summer barbeques or while driving with the top down.
Of course, this being Mariah Carey, a lady not entirely known for doing things in small measures, there are a few moments of self-indulgence and The Elusive Chanteuse goes off the rails. Requisite for requirements, Carey tosses in one cover song, this time taking on George Michael's 1988 hit "One More Try", and while she gives it a good go, she still can't quite overtake the haunting power of the original. "Supernatural" contains what must be a contractual obligation for every new parent, vocals from Mariah's very young children, as she sings over the looped laughter of her babies. It's all very cute, but still borderline unbearable. "You're Mine (Eternal)" and "Heavenly" both sound like Mariah trying to revisit former glories, namely "Touch My Body" and "When You Believe" respectively, and failing at both.
Despite these missteps, The Elusive Chanteuse is still a massive step in right direction for Mariah. Looking at her contemporaries, they're either sadly departed or simply not recording new music anymore, while the younger generation have seemingly all given into the EDM monster. So while Mariah may not be to everyone's taste, her taste in old school sounding music is beyond reproach.
Review by Rory Cashin | THREE POINT FIVE STARS