It is hard not to lose track when counting the total number of hit singles Mariah Carey had throughout the 1990s. With a massive total of 15 #1 hits, and countless other Top-20 scorchers, Mariah Carey truly dominated the decade with unparalleled longevity. With a 5-octave vocal range, many could be forgiven for thinking her fall from grace would never come.
The Y2K bug may have been a bunch of garbage (aside from a few narrowly averted nuclear meltdowns in Japan), yet Mariah Carey felt the true punch of the new-millennium bug. With Glitter
, Carey released one of the worst albums of the decade so far, taking her new Hip-Hop sound to disastrous lows. But rather than make a U-turn, Carey pushed on into the mist and released Charmbracelet
which justifiably flopped with both her Hip-Hop youth and Adult Contemporary audiences. Much like many of the other stellar female pop vocalists of today, Carey suffered from inadequate production. Neither Virgin nor Island Records truly understood Carey's need to let her voice fly with Glitter
It would be easy to be pessimistic about The Emancipation of Mimi
considering it is produced by Island Records, creators of the dismal Charmbracelet
. Yet from the first moment, a jump up in the production quality is evident. Where Charmbracelet
would feel emotionless and undernourished, The Emancipation of Mimi
feels vibrant, just like a true divalicious album. The same Hip-Hop style that she turned to late in the 90s is present. But where previous Carey albums would underemphasise the vocals when emphasis was needed, The Emancipation of Mimi
makes subtle effects with purpose. The hit single Shake It Off
is a terrific example of the newfound intelligent production. The Hip-Hop rhythm feels incredibly simplistic, with a basic keyboard pattern and light tap-drumming. Meanwhile Carey's vocals are made to carry the workload, and are only given the slight backing of a male guest vocal performance only adding sonic depth. Yet Carey huskily talks, whilst Carey herself is given the role of backing vocals, breaking into the upper registries. The combination of her vocals melismatically transcending through high-pitched notes then dropping back down to husky talking works exquisitely: Inspiring like only Carey can.
Carey's Hip-Hop fans certainly are given a treat with The Emancipation of Mimi
. The amount and the quality of Hip-Hop based songs can be simply overwhelming. It's Like That
offers another example of Carey taking the entire workload, and pulling it off with variety and a delicate touch. Much of the album features compulsory collaborations with male Hip-Hop artists. It isn't as though these men are slouches either, with Snoop Dogg
, Twista and Jadakiss all appearing. Yet never do they overshadow Carey, only ever acting as the tomatoe sauce on the side of Carey's meal. It's Like That
utilises the two featuring male vocalists as if it were a studio effect, having them act as reverb after Carey's vocals. Once again the rhythm merely drops away behind the vocals, maintaining continuity but not becoming a focus. On their own, the Hip-Hop beats of this album would seem entirely devoid of emotion and appeal. Yet never do they reach the trepid beats of Glitter
. When looked at in comparison with the other areas of the album, the rhythms do hold back the album slightly. Thankfully though, the producers have had enough sense to take the focus entirely away from the rhythms.
What cannot be ignored is the sheer length of this album. Never do songs reach above the uniform pop length, yet with so many tracks, fillers would certainly become forgivable. The exact amount of fillers is debatable, but the quantity in regards to total track count is very small. Even at the end of the album the songs do not taper off, with a surprisingly good Hip-Hop remix of the single We Belong Together
and more importantly a collaboration between Mariah Carey and Twista, So Lonely (One & Only Part II)
. As one of the highlights of the album, So Lonely
utilises a production style similar to Kanye West
. The beats stay irregular and as such, more interesting than any other beats on the album. Meanwhile Carey and Twista compete in a fast-paced duet, similar to that of Eminem and 50 Cent in Patiently Waiting
. Carey's vocals soar to beautiful heights as the string instruments similarly fly. Each exchange provides brilliant contrast between husky softs and hasty rhymes.
Not content with just a few stunners, Island Records have packed in even more remarkable music. Fly Like A Bird
provides both a nice break from the Hip-Hop overload, and also acts as an inspirational piece usually not seen in the mainstream. Many of Carey's critics argue that her vocals lack emotion, and this claim can be seen in previous Carey albums. Fly Like a Bird
could be considered the counterargument to her critics' claims. In a passionate display of vocal excellence, Carey's vocals reach the height of angels, expressing the innermost of her feelings. Some will find Fly Like A Bird
slightly overdone, but those that can appreciate it will hear one of the most emotionally inspiring songs of 2005.
As for the rest of the album, the emotion vs. technical ability is a bit of a mixed affair. In songs such as Mine Again
and Stay The Night
her vocals are varied, but are only done so for variation and vocal virtuosity. In other songs such as the previously mentioned Fly Like a Bird
and We Belong Together
, the vocal variation feels more heartfelt. Created through the heart, rather than the head. Perhaps as testament to this, We Belong Together
held the number 1 position in the U.S. for 14 weeks, making it the biggest hit of 2005.
With the short memories of mainstream listeners, one must wonder how much of the album is new content. The Emancipation of Mimi
never really goes anywhere outside the areas already explored by its predecessors. The argument that it has all been heard before could certainly be made, and really, it has.
But while the album may not head in any radical new directions, Mariah Carey instead went back to perfect what she had already laid the groundwork for. Her revival has been made with a bang, fun and vibrant at times then emotionally potent the next. Carey's detractors will not be converted with The Emancipation of Mimi
. But with the subtle improvements in production quality, and purpose, The Emancipation of Mimi
offers a delicious return to form. Outside the cynics in life, most will find Carey's return to form to be an example of newfound maturity, returned purpose and most of all, an album that truly harnesses the extraordinary voice of Mariah Carey. The Emancipation of Mimi
may not be the best album of 2005, yet as a Pop album it rightfully dominated the charts like only a Diva could.