en: The Emancipation of Mimi [info]
After virtually bankrupting her previous record label (Virgin/EMI), the high profile failure of Glitter and that terrible Phil Collins cover version with Westlife, lesser mortals than Mariah Carey would surely have buckled under the sheer humiliation of it all. Despite shifting an incredible 140 million albums in the late 90s her latter-day career has resembled a perpetual catastrophe. However, Mariah seems to sashay obliviously onwards, an entourage of servile minions clearing the wreckage left in her wake.
Perhaps such recent history explains the use of her alter ego Mimi, although the emancipation (the word, with its tricky five syllables, is helpfully defined in the sleeve notes) in this case simply looks like Mariah attempting to reinstate her street credentials. Running the risk of sounding like just about every other R'n'B diva on the block is a strategy fraught with potential difficulties, although mostly she does manage to pull it off.
Certainly, comeback single "It's Like That" so successfully re-writes Christina Aguilera's career blueprint, that even a typically bull-in-a-china-shop contribution from Fatman Scoop can't ruin it. Better still is "Say Somethin'" which sees Snoop and Pharrell reprising the naked thump of Kelis' "Milkshake" and adding some neat disco touches. Along with the Kanye West-produced "Stay The Night" it's arguably the album's strongest moment.
Contributions from Jermaine Dupri and Nelly are respectively nauseating and cliched, but elsewhere that famous five-octave voice is back in full effect - occasionally replicating the majesty of Minnie Riperton ("Circles") but often the equivalent of a human dog whistle ("One And Only").
Saying that, there's still plenty here for Mariah's traditional fanbase. "We Belong Together" and "Your Girl" update her classic soul sound with elegance, while "Mine Again" and "Joy Ride" are the pick of the ballads.
For all her vocal gymnastics, there's nobody better at walking the fine line between bombast and sensitivity, and this is undoubtedly Mariah Carey's strongest album for some time. Mimi may not be entirely emancipated from her past, but this is certainly one big step out of the mire.