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E=MC2 a Winning Equation

Observer Scene | Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In 2005, Mariah Carey released “The Emancipation of Mimi, which garnered three Grammy awards and became the biggest-selling album of 2005, with 5.8 million copies sold.

Even though it included the classic hit “We Belong Together,” most of “Mimi” was hit or miss, with some bona fide club-bangers and striking ballads, but still others that missed the mark.

On Carey’s long-anticipated follow-up, E=MC2, she stuck close to the formula that made “Mimi” such a success – a mixture up-tempo R&B and catchy mid-tempo ballads – but this time around, she’s made an album that is listenable from beginning to end.

The album opens with a song destined to invade the airwaves this summer. “Migrate” (with T-Pain) features a bouncing beat and a chorus that’ll be stuck in your head for days. Though the lyrics are nothing more than an ode to partying, the melody is infectious and Carey’s voice provides enough sultriness to make it a runaway hit.

The next two tracks, “Touch My Body” (Carey’s 18th Billboard No. 1 hit) “Cruise Control,” continue the run of pleasant, upbeat tunes, though the album picks up steam with track four, “I Stay in Love.”

“I Stay in Love” is this album’s “We Belong Together.” It’s a gorgeous mid-tempo ballad that features an outstanding performance from Carey. The theme is a common one in Carey’s songs, not being able to let go of a former lover, but few times before has she sung about it with this much heartbreak.

On “I Stay in Love,” Carey continues a trend she began with “We Belong Together.” No longer is she singing the majority of her songs in her upper register. Rather, she sings in a lower key, and in a full voice.

Melodically, Carey is singing more words per measure, and it’s a good thing. It requires Carey to cut down on her melismatic singing, which she has been widely, and rightfully, criticized for in the past. Basically, the technique of melisma means the singer has a tendency to turn one note into five and fluctuate his voice up and down the scale dramatically. The effect is an annoying warbling sound that expresses little emotion. Since she’s singing more words per measure, she has no time for melisma if she’s going to sing all the words.

On E=MC2, Carey has cut down on the melisma and conveys more emotion using the lower portion of her voice. This is evident on the songs Carey wrote with Jermaine Dupri, who collaborated with Carey on a number of songs in the past, including “We Belong Together,” “Always Be My Baby,” and “Shake it Off.”

“Love Story,” “Thanks for Nothing,” and “Last Kiss,” provide this album’s best melodies and strongest vocals for Carey.

But the high point of the disc is the Young Jeezy collaboration, “Side Effects.” With lyrics such as “It didn’t stop, no one was there, couldn’t be real, had to keep quiet, once in a while, put up a fight, but it’s just too much, night after night,” Carey gives her audience an in-depth look into her former marriage with music mogul Tommy Mottolla, who helped launch her career in the early 1990s.

Never has Carey put out such a confessional and moving record that also easily applies to any repressive or damaged relationship. With this song, Carey is able to pull off a tough accomplishment for any singer, make a song of high quality that is both universal and deeply personal.

Carey closes the set the same way she closed “Mimi,” with a gospel-tinged vocal acrobatic exercise. “I Wish You Well” contains Bible quotes and a choir and Carey shows that even though her voice has deteriorated over the years, she still has plenty of power to rise above the hundreds of American Idol contestants who aspire to be her.

It’s too bad Carey’s label decided to release the worst song on the album, “Bye Bye” as the second single. The song is about death and is as sappy as a musical Hallmark card. Don’t be fooled when you hear it on the radio or see Carey performing it in the coming weeks, because aside from that song, Carey has made one of the best pop/R&B records of the past year.