By Joey Crutchley
When you’re a musical icon releasing albums decades into your career, the odds are rarely ever in your favour. Collaborate with contemporary and commercial producers and you’ll get branded a sell-out, while if you create an album that is sonically reminiscent of your previous work you’ll be called “boring” and criticized for not adapting to the current musical style. However with the release of her 15th studio album, Caution, R&B legend Mariah Carey is undeniably unconcerned with such conceptions creating a body of work that fuses both 80s and 90s R&B with a modern production.
Opening the album with ‘GTFO’ this track is both playful and sassy with blunt lyrics which see’s Mariah demand her lover to “get the f-out”. Sonically the track follows a similar melodic pattern of Drakes worldwide smash, ‘Hotline Bling.’ The following track and lead single ‘With You’, is a DJ Mustard produced ballad that embeds a few upper-register notes reminiscent of her ‘Vision Of Love’ days. The single failed to make any sort of impact on the charts, but with a musical back catalogue like Mariah’s, does it really matter?
With a stunning five-octave vocal range and five Grammy Awards under her belt, Mariah could have done the contemporary adults covers and pop ballads she is renowned for, instead she has created a cohesive body of work that is combined of R&B, pop and hip-hop. Collaborating with an array of producers from Timbaland to Skrillex to Drake’s very own hitmaker, producer Nineteen85. Caution encompasses and pays homage to the genres and sounds prevalent throughout Mariah’s three decade career, while simultaneously allowing the record to be both contemporary and fresh.
“Proceed with caution / don’t be dishonest”, Mariah demands on the title track, which is sonically reminiscent of late 90s Destiny’s Child. The track sees Mariah’s whispers compliment both the vocal layering and production. Nostalgic cut, ‘8th Grade’ features production from Timbaland. “Put yourself in my shoes”, Mariah coos over spruce finger snaps and atmospheric synths. ‘One Mo Gen’ shows that Mariah is confident with working her way around a piano chord with slick production and sultry lyrics while ‘No No No’ picks up the pace with ricocheting hi-hats and staccato keyboard stabs.
The highlight of the album is the sixth track, ‘Giving Me Life’, which features a verse from rapper Slick Rick and production and backing vocals from alternative R&B trailblazer Blood Orange. The track is a gorgeous six minute slow jam with Mariah’s sensuous lower register accompanied with entwined guitar riffs and a monotonous synth line. The final minute of the song transcends into a woozy guitar-laced outro.
The album comes to a grand finale with the tenth track, ‘Portrait’ an intimate piano led track with breathy vocals reminiscent of 90s Mariah. The track sees Mariah reveal the emotional inner tension of having to be both vulnerable and resilient within the public eye: “I won’t let the teardrops spill tonight / Just conceal myself and hide.”
Caution is Mariah’s shortest album to date with there being only 10 tracks and a running time of a mere 38 minutes. A strong contrast to her previous release, the lengthy and cluttered 15 track effort Me. I Am Mariah (18 if you’re streaming the deluxe edition). Caution offers a cohesive listening experience that ignores musical trends and instead focuses on quality not quantity.
From this album (which is her first since leaving Def Jam And signing with Epic) it appears Mariah is not looking for a hit or instant chart success. She already has her 18 number one singles and has sold more than 200 records worldwide. She’s not chasing what’s on the radio nor experimenting with commercial musical styles, instead she has created a solid piece of work that flows, just like the satin dressing gown she wears while parading around in a pair of Louboutins, in typical Mariah Carey style, darling.