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Carey shows her voice can still soar

Broderick Henry | Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mariah Carey is a music superstar. With 16 No. 1 pop hits and more than 57 million units sold in the U.S. alone, Carey is considered one of the greatest singers of our generation.Yet, like superstars Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, Carey has had her fair share of problems. After a very public divorce from Sony music exec Tommy Mottola in 1997, Carey’s career went from a sizzle to a slow burn. As her clothes have come off, the hits have diminished, and the pop diva’s inner demons have also surfaced. During the past four years, the singer has experienced an emotional breakdown – highlighted by a bizarre appearance on MTV’s Total Request Live – and suffered the critical and commercial failure of two records and a movie. As a result, Carey finds herself trying to revamp an image and a career with the release of “The Emancipation of Mimi.”With that in mind, the first single from “Emancipation,” “It’s Like That,” finds Mariah in a convivial mood singing, “Cuz it’s my life / No stress, No fights / I’m leaving it all behind.” Lyrically and musically, it is a significant retreat from Carey’s earlier works. Driven by a hard bass-line, the 35-year-old singer proclaims herself a “hot tamale and those chickens ash, and she lotion.” Undoubtedly, Carey is attempting to cater to the MTV and BET audience who were five years old when she released her first album. To that end the song has been a great success, selling more than 404,000 copies in its first week of release. However, it may have confused the pop diva’s devoted fans about the direction she is headed. Luckily, the rest of “Emancipation” is not as predictable or commercially constricted as “It’s like That.” Similar to most of today’s pop records, the album has its fair share of guest performers: Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Twista and Jermaine Dupri, who makes numerous appearances as both producer and MC. Other than Twista’s appearance on the stylized rap/singing hybrid “One and Only,” these collaborations are rather forgettable. It appears the songbird is at her best when she leaves the musical extras of hip-hop behind and displays the incomparable five-octave instrument that has made her famous – her voice.”Mine Again” is a standout and the perfect example of Carey’s singing abilities. Produced by Roots producer James Poyser, it is a song of heartbreak and yearning. The ballad begins with introductory piano keys and then adds horns and a bass guitar. Not much else is added to the mix, leaving Mariah’s voice to bring her past relationship gone wrong to life, which she does effortlessly.The Kanye West produced “Stay the Night” samples the old school hit “Betcha by Golly Why,” and brightens the album up a bit. The sped-up sample works well with MiMi’s wailing. Of course, no Mariah album would be complete without an inspirational gospel record. This time around it is the emotionally uplifting “Fly Like a Bird,” which is reminiscent of Carey’s former hits “Make it Happen” and “Hero.” Soaring vocals and beautiful instrumentation leads the listener to believe either she or Carey will fly away. Overall, “The Emancipation of Mimi” is a good listen despite today’s radio-singles-driven market. Although the album does have a few missteps, the good tracks, buoyed by Carey’s voice and exquisite production, more than make up for them. An emancipated MiMi is an older, slightly flawed, more soulful MiMi.