Mariah Carey's early records may have functioned solely as vehicles for her spectacular soprano, but what's been most remarkable about her recent efforts is their tendency toward restraint.
"The Emancipation of Mimi," Carey's spectacular 2005 comeback, found the Huntington diva dialing it down, scaling back her theatrics and allowing her voice to be seamlessly woven into the slippery R&B production rather than soaring over the top of it. Last year's underrated "E=MC2" continued that formula, coming off spry, impish and playful.
But on "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" (Island), restraint has given way to inertia. Low-wattage and low-impact, it's a humdrum descent into midtempo, hopelessly burdened with ballads. In interviews, Carey has described the record as "personal" - the first words she sings are, "Welcome to a day of my life" - and somehow that drive to confess has resulted in slower tempos. "H.A.T.E.U.," which is built around the refrain "I can't wait to hate you," has the steady twinkle of a love song. Even "Obsessed," the synth-laden Eminem kiss-off, trudges instead of snaps.
The production, courtesy of the reliable Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, feels boilerplate at best. At 17 songs (plus a six-song remix EP), the record is far too long, and by the time the exuberant "Up Out My Face" arrives, it feels like it was grafted on from a better record. Mostly, "Memoirs" dawdles and sighs, climaxing with a straightforward cover of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is." Confessional albums generally address mysteries in a performer's life. The real mystery on "Memoirs" is how something so long can feel so slight.
MARIAH CAREY: "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel"
BOTTOM LINE: Carey's latest fails to ignite