Mariah Carey is at her best when she feels like the underdog.
It's a tough mindset for the Greenlawn native, considering she was crowned the top-selling female artist of the last millennium and has more No. 1 singles than any other woman. However, she somehow convinces herself of it again, even if much of the drama was self-generated.
After several high-profile delays and changes of direction, Carey heads back to her musical sweet spot on "Me. I Am Mariah . . . The Elusive Chanteuse" (Def Jam), big R&B ballads that show off her powerful voice and its stunning range. While Carey, in recent years, has been concerned with sounding timely, on "Chanteuse," she goes for timeless, with grand results.
She opens with the lovely "Cry," which should send fans of "Vision of Love"-era, melisma-loving Mariah into a swoon. She tackles George Michael's ballad "One More Try" by adding a whole new layer of emotion with her high-flying vocals.
Carey hasn't abandoned her love of hip-hop production, but she's opting for a more laid-back approach this time. On "Dedicated," she pays tribute to hip-hop's heyday with Nas, but settles into a '90s-style groove, while "Made It Look Good" feels like an early Kanye West production. Her duet with Wale, "You Don't Know What to Do," floats by on disco-era breeziness. Even the new single "Thirsty" manages to be strong-willed without being aggressive.
It's a balance that may be elusive to many, but Carey has nailed it once again on "Chanteuse," her strongest effort since 1995's "Daydream."
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"Me. I Am Mariah . . . The Elusive Chanteuse"
THE GRADE A-
BOTTOM LINE Once again, Mariah proves she thrives on drama.