Music review: Diva Mariah Carey ditches her signature vocal acrobatics in her latest album

R&B/POP

CAUTION

Mariah Carey

Butterfly MC / Epic

3.5stars

In her 15th album, Caution, pop/R&B diva Mariah Carey balances the contemporary with the classics, and along the way makes it one of her most personal releases to date.

Stories of her alleged diva-like behaviour notwithstanding, Carey is setting her own terms and throwing a warning shot to those who would do her wrong.

And while her five-octave vocal range has become a trademark, it is hardly in use in the 10-track release.

Long gone are the days when her stratospheric wails would fill her album. In Caution, she focuses more on proficient phrasing than vocal acrobatics.

Album opener GTFO, an acronym for a phrase unprintable in a family newspaper, is a sharp kiss-off to a former lover, albeit a good-looking one.

“You left me lost and disenchanted, bulldozed my heart as if you planned it, my prince was so unjustly handsome,” she sings before gently cooing the expletive-filled chorus.

A No No, which samples late rap legend Notorious B.I.G., is just as savage lyrically, a diatribe against those who dare betray her both professionally and romantically. “Off with your head, now slither out the door / Snakes in the grass, it’s time to cut the lawn / Ed Scissorhands, AKA I cut you off,” she sings with glee, later threatening to sic her lawyer on those who incur her wrath.

But no one wants to listen to a vitriol-filled Mariah Carey album, so it is a huge relief to hear songs like the title track. Despite the trials and tribulations of past relationships, she is still hopeful about love (“And I try to be alone but you persist, I’ve met my match… Proceed with caution”).

Portrait is a throwback to the piano ballads from an earlier time in her career.

“Look the other way as I bottle myself up inside / I won’t let the teardrops spill tonight / Just conceal myself and hide,” she croons in an ode to self-reflection.

Her choice of producers can be adventurous. Giving Me Life is a six-minute heady trip courtesy of cutting-edge pop singer-songwriter Blood Orange, who samples Carey’s famous whistle register in the trippy outro. The hazy, contemporary R&B feel of the song is balanced by verses from veteran rapper Slick Rick.

Tracks like The Distance is a throwback to 1990s-era pop/R&B hybrids, despite featuring a relatively contemporary EDM star like Skrillex as one of its writers.

Similarly, Stay Long Love You has the light bounce of her late 1990s/early 2000s collaborations with hip-hop stars, this time with a verse from upcoming rapper Gunna.

In the last three decades since she made her debut, many female pop singers have scaled the heights that Carey has reached but very, very few have matched her longevity. It cannot be said that Caution is her most significant work but it is certainly a testament to her staying power.

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