Caution (released November 16, 2018)
It shouldn’t be possible to underestimate an artist the caliber of Mariah Carey.
A record-breaking resume, vocal abilities that are absolutely unearthly, classic albums that are still referenced two decades later and more No. 1 singles than your fave rapper has stupid ad-libs, MC’s legacy is unmatched.
But that doesn’t mean that legacy is bulletproof.
While not outright disasters, her most recent albums have been pretty forgettable in the long run. In fact it’s been a full decade – 2008’s E=MC2, last time I checked – since she really nailed a project.
And sigh, those live performances. From constant technical glitches to the Mariah’s reluctance to actually MOVE HER BODY ON HER OWN, MC’s stage shows have been downright fiascos.
From Mariah Carey to Mariah Carried. Lord help.
Sorry Lambs, I just couldn’t muster too much excitement about Caution, Mariah’s landmark 15th LP. Even the teaser singles were a mixed bag. I appreciated the brooding production of “GTFO,” but was totally turned off by the lyrics, which sound like they were pulled from a 15-year-old’s Facebook status. The gentle keys, finger snaps and wispy vocals of “With You” were much more appealing but not very exciting. However, the hip-hop fueled “A No No,” did win me over (more on that later).
A word to those MC critics, including myself – throw out any doubts trigged by Mariah’s recent missteps. Caution is a surprising return to form, proving that MC is just too talented to fail.
Instead of embarrassingly chasing trends, Caution wisely fuses her trademark sound with modern production. I wish more R&B vets got that memo.
Mariah has a long history of incorporating hip-hop into her hits – “Shook Ones,” “Oh Boy” and “Déjà Vu” just to name a few. So it’s no shock that MC borrows from Lil Kim’s classic “Crush On You” for “A No No,” even keeping Lil Cease’s ad-libs in a very nice touch.
Most the Caution’s tracks are much more understated than “A No No,” but they never drag or get dull. The title track slinks along with a midtempo, creeping bounce while the knocking bass of “The Distance” keeps pulses pounding. Even guest Ty Dolla Sign, who must be contractually obligated to appear on EVERY album I review this year, doesn’t stick around long enough to be a nuisance.
The album’s biggest highlight has to be the 6-minute “Giving Me Life.” Light percussions, low synths and sparse keys prove that you don’t need overloaded instrumentation for an addictive track. It also features two of the most shocking guests on the entire set – Blood Orange supplying backing vocals while Slick Rick lets his mink drag with a guest verse, bragging about the time “your gold fronts looked better than mines did.” It’s like the Ruler never left.
Beat maestro Timbaland also assists with two tracks – the tinkering production of “8th Grade” is the type of sultry groove that made Mariah an R&B stalwart while piano ballad “Portrait” drifts along like it’s a product of her Daydreamin’ Butterfly days.
Caution does have it missteps – “One Mo’ Gen” winds up being utterly forgettable while Gunna’s mumbling does “Stay Long Love You” absolutely no favors. But I will say that both “GTFO” and “With You,” two tracks I wasn’t sold on initially, work much better within the context of the album. By no means are they standouts but, as album cuts, they do add to the overall package.
Caution is the most consistent body of work Mariah has released in years – a tight, understated yet powerful statement that the Songbird Supreme is still capable of soaring.
That’s what I get for doubting her.
Best tracks: “A No No,” “Giving Me Life,” “Caution”
4 stars out of 5