Mariah finds perfect balance on new album

Monday 10 February 2003

On 2001's Glitter, Mariah Carey attempted to meld hardcore hip-hop with her sweet and dynamic pop star voice, but she seemed so out of place and stepped-on by her bigger, badder hip-hop celebrity contributors that the album was accepted by neither hip-hop heads nor her old pop fans. It seems logical that Mariah would dump her rap friends like a hot brick and backpedal to the high-flying five-octave pop, R&B, and A/C ballads that made her a household name. But on Charmbracelet, Mariah Carey simply finds a new balance between rap and other styles; some familiar and some new.
On the heels of Glitter, one might expect Mariah to make some effort toward her old Top 40 and A/C fanbase. And she does straight-away with the disc's first track, the tender melodic ballad "Through the Rain", a soulful piano-based hymn of healing where her trademark range and power are once again on full display. "I Only Wanted" is another adult contemporary friendly song with a sweeping, romantic chorus and an undercurrent of melancholy plumbing the depths below a surface of pretty piano lines and plucked Spanish guitar.
In fact, much of the album has a somber tone, with themes including isolation and lost love, and though these are nothing new for Mariah, it feels all the more poignant and heartfelt given her recent personal troubles. But musically, Mariah cuts new ground on several fronts, including two smoky and sexy Janet Jackson style ballads: "The One" (co-written by Jermaine Dupri) and "Yours", which is as hopeful as it is sultry. Mariah really leans into it vocally making it the album's standout track.
On Charmbracelet, she also takes a completely successful stab at smooth jazz, going uptown for the swinging, sophisticated "Subtle Invitation", which could crossover to stations playing Sade and Fourplay. The song matches jazzy electric piano, soft '70s soul horn charts, and full round-sounding electric bass, with a catchy melody supported by plenty of Mariah harmonies. And then there's her cover of Def Leppard's heavy metal ballad "Bringin' On the Heartbreak", which she turns more atmospheric and moody than the original.
While hip-hop flavors much of the album, there's only six songs here that could be accurately described as being hip-hop numbers. Of them, some hit and some miss, but all are improvements over the flat beats and awkwardness that afflicted Glitter. "Lullaby", with its tired beat and lack of melody is an example of a miss, but the breezy "Irresistible" (produced by Ice Cube's West Side Connection) is as fly as Mariah herself, and has mainstream appeal.
While less dynamic and glossy than her previous blockbusters, Charmbracelet offers something for every kind of Mariah fan: slow burning ballads, sexy R&B, club songs, hip-hop, and here and there some new experiments. It's also a document of a superstar determined to tweak if not recast her identity. And on her own terms.


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