The Emancipation of Mimi
omeone recently posited that there was no greater high and low attained in American culture than those had by Michael Jackson. If that’s true, you have to imagine that Mariah Carey comes in somewhere in the top 100, at the very least. But everybody loves an underdog and since Michael’s not making records any longer, Mariah is the best one that America has to offer. After the double-low of Glitter and the unfairly maligned Charmbracelet.
Most Mariah albums can be divided neatly into two halves: the down-tempo and up-tempo. Here, the former features a strong collection of tracks including the beautifully cadenced “We Belong Together,” the sultry “Shake It Off,” and the signature Carey show-off track, “Mine Again.”
The most disappointing up-tempo cut is the Snoop Dogg cameo “Say Something,” which features production by the Neptunes. A kind of off-kilter funk pervades, what with that distracting snares and the smooth bed of synths wrapping their arms around Mariah’s voice. It’s hardly her best track any of them have made and feels out-of-place and tacked on in the context of the album. Redemption comes later on with the marginally better “To the Floor,” which is curiously placed nearly at the end of the album.
More successful is the follow-up “Stay the Night,” a Kanye West produced number that shows off Mariah’s range and may be one of her most upbeat tracks ever. It’s got the typical West old-school backing and Carey’s signature squeal in its closing moments. Unfortunately, it’s followed up by the ill-advised pseudo-crunk of “Get Your Number,” which Carey does all in her power to save from Jermaine Dupri’s machinations. It barely comes off, despite every attempt from Dupri to sound like Lil Jon and Pharrell along the way.
Throwaway “Your Girl” might be the best thing of all, but it’s also indicative of the problems inherent with Emancipation. The track basically allows Mariah to go it alone with versions of herself over a West-inspired beat, her voice straining during the chorus to summon up the depth that once typified her vocals. Unfortunately, it’s no long there. Thin and airy, there’s just something missing there that wasn’t in her classic mid-90s incarnation.
Is The Emancipation of Mimi the comeback that most have been waiting for? Not exactly. It’s easily the strongest album that she’s made in this millennium, but suffers from the fact that her vocals have deteriorated—a simple fact of the ravages that her voice has undergone in the past fifteen years. Perhaps the best we could have hoped for, Emancipation is redemption and resignation at the same time.