The most successful female songwriter of all time, the songbird supreme, the eternal queen of Christmas: Mariah Carey is back with her first album in four years. Caution, introduced by the sublime buzz single, “GTFO,” (read my review here) and the gorgeous lead single, “With You,” is mature, succinct, and triumphant.
While Mariah’s last album, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, was mired with messy singles releases and a bloated tracklist, Caution packs a mighty punch in its compactness and attention to detail. “GTFO” and “With You” open the album with classic Mariah chord progressions and playful experimentation with the alternative fringes of modern R&B. The title track then arrives with a muted sensuality reminiscent of Carey’s Butterfly and Rainbow eras. From there, the 1-2-3 punch of “A No No,” “The Distance,” and “Giving Me Life” really gets the album started. “A No No,” the sole true uptempo track on Caution, is a lush and jubilant track that references Carey’s real-life drama with a sense of self-assuredness and ease. The track bleeds perfectly into one of the best R&B songs of 2018, “The Distance” a collaboration with the illustrious Ty Dolla $ign. Finally, “Giving Me Life,” which features Slick Rick and Blood Orange, is the most modern track on Caution thus far. The track is great, and as usual, Mariah’s songwriting is top notch. Nevertheless, it is the outro that truly elevates this song. The layered harmonies in multiple octaves flirt with a sexy electric guitar create one of the most beautiful musical moments of the year.
“One Mo’ Gen” and “8th Grade” chug the album along. The former is a sultry slow burner, while the later is a winkingly self-referential track: “maybe the lyrics were too heavy in my song.” The tracks are smooth and strong, but their placement in the tracklist creates a three-song rut of spacey midtempos that can easily become overwhelming. Thankfully, the excellent Gunna collaboration, “Stay Long Love You” gifts us one last faster-paced song before the stunning finale, “Portrait.”
Caution is Mariah Carey at her most resilient and secure. Carey is able to reference and experiment with modern music trends and artists while still retaining what makes her a legend. She trades the bombastic ballads for a softer and more sensual delivery, and the result is an album that is the perfect representation of 2018 Mariah Carey. This sounds like an album, an artist makes because they feel inspired and simply just want to. From orchestral outros to hidden rock-influenced interludes, Mariah Carey’s Caution is immaculate because of her attention to detail and ability to adapt to any era. Her songwriting is as edifying and entertaining as usual, and her vocals still sound better thirty years into her career than some stars do during their debut. Caution, Mariah’s fifteenth studio album, is at once strong and seductive yet quiet and revelatory. And somehow, she makes it all look easy. All hail Queen Mariah!
Best Tracks: “The Distance,” “Portait,” “Giving Me Life,” “A No No”
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