Review Summary: A trek through a wasteland of arid, lifeless balladry.
Mariah Carey has finally put the past behind her, as she tells us about a dozen times on her twelfth album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. It’s a step back into her multi-platinum past, a collection of retro ballads that would have sounded at home, production-wise and stylistically, on any of her mid-‘90s records. Yet it also is an unsettling look into the future, featuring a 34-page Elle mini-magazine exclusively devoted to Carey’s life and career amidst a number of unrelated advertisements that turns what Carey is calling a restatement of her career into a crass marketing innovation. Regardless of the extraneous material and the continued focus on Carey’s rather well endowed physique, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel comes off as a riveting success in its attempt to replicate Carey’s original achievements. It’s a consistent group of note-stretching ballads, R&B-lite slow jams, and smoothly produced adult contemporary torch songs.
It’s also boring as ***. Producers The-Dream and Tricky Stewart succeed in creating an album that, across seventeen long tracks, sounds nearly uniform across the board. It’s a compilation of the kind of bland, soulless R&B that Carey and others sold millions with back in the ‘90s, and it’s absolutely fine, from opener “Betcha Gon Know” (easily the most interesting track on here), until about song five, when you realize things aren’t changing. It’s nearly impossible to differentiate from tracks after a complete run-through of the album, the songs’ similarities causing them to bleed into one another and any casual listener to become completely lost. From “H.A.T.E.U.” (or, if you prefer, the more polite “Having A Typical Emotional Upset”) to “Inseparable” to “Angels Cry,” it’s the same piano, drum machine, handclaps, and Carey’s unusually restrained voice. Normally a plus, Carey’s restraint here only serves to highlight the music’s weak foundations – Carey belting it out like only she could do would have been a welcome respite from the surrounding tedium.
The sameness unfortunately carries over to the lyrics as well – evidently Carey decided to travel back to the past there as well, many of the songs containing veiled jabs at past lovers and how she’s so so so over them all. And when we finally do get a taste of her new hubby on love ode “The Impossible” (which for some reason needed a reprise), it’s princess fantasy, with Carey cooing “love you like a Freezepop / love you like a milkshake / love you like a high school girl on a first date,” it’s almost laughable. Somehow I don’t think my significant other would appreciate me comparing her to a milkshake, but maybe it’s a Nick Cannon fetish.
The best songs here are, of course, those that deviate from the formula even just a little bit. First single “Obsessed” is the obvious pick and the only one here that seems guaranteed Top 40 success, although “Standing O” and the bouncy “Up Out My Face” make good cases for second single material. As an album, though Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel offers little to no breaks between the relentless slew of vanilla ballads and mid tempo kiss-offs. For all of Carey’s significant vocal talents, she does little here to deserve anything but the faint praise that she still manages to come off as an everyday type of girl, one you can relate to despite her superhuman range and superhuman breasts.
For an album that nearly clocks in at a full hour, it’s a shocking thing to feel like nothing has changed or progressed from the first song to the final seconds. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel is a trek, a journey through a wasteland of arid, lifeless balladry with only the occasional mirage of good taste to trick us into continuing on. Please, stop while you’re ahead.