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'Caution' review: Mariah Carey plays to her strength

Mariah Carey's "Caution" on Epic Records.

Mariah Carey's "Caution" on Epic Records. Photo Credit: Amazon.com

MARIAH CAREY

Caution

BOTTOM LINE Playing to her strength more than playing it safe

Mariah Carey has never shied away from a challenge.

With her stunning, multi-octave voice, the Greenlawn native could easily be cranking out moneymaking collections of covers or adult pop ballads. Instead, she continues to forge her own way — right through the intersection of pop, R&B and hip-hop — with mixed results.

On her 15th studio album “Caution” (Epic), though, Carey finds a groove that plays to her strengths and sticks with it. “Caution” is packed with midtempo R&B ballads that don’t stray too far from the successful form of “We Belong Together” that reinstated her at the top of the charts.

The first single “With You” is the closest Carey has come to a pure pop ballad in a while, though she does toss in a bit of hip-hop production at the beginning to let us know she hasn’t forgotten who she is. She even adds a few upper-register notes at the end to remind us of the “Vision of Love” days.

But there are a few too many ballads like “With You,” including “Portrait” and “One Mo’ Gan.” And when placed near the playful “A No No,” it becomes clear “Caution” could have been a much better album if Carey simply let loose a bit more. “A No No” finds her in a fun-loving, yet defiant mood, declaring, “Snakes in the grass, it's time to cut the lawn” before her protests of “I said no” get louder and the hip-hop groove gets deeper. She also gets a bit giddy when she offers to translate “No” into different languages. That and “Stay Long Love You,” which features Gunna, are rare moments of levity on an album that feels mostly serious and even a bit worried.

Carey has always been best when she gets the chance to take risks, like on the underappreciated “E=MC2” album, or when she was hanging with Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Jay-Z. Considering all she’s done, “Caution” may be a little too safe.

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