Mariah is the first big diva to deliver a consistently entertaining pop album in 2008. "E=MC²" is wildly uneven but it still manages to deliver a killer batch of soulful grooves, pretty ballads and mid-tempo jams. The album took me a couple of listens to get into but now I'm hooked. That's not to say "E=MC²" is perfect by any means. It's often repetitive, overly clinical and stays a little too true to "The Emancipation Of Mimi" blueprint. However, as an enjoyable slice of expertly-produced urban pop, "E=MC²" is hard to beat. Here is my track by track review:
Migrate Ft. T-Pain - 10/10
This insanely catchy party anthem makes me want to get crunk in the club and I don't even know what the hell that means! "Migrate" is a four minute demonstration of why Danja is currently the hottest producer in urban music. Unusual hooks (I love the quirky panpipes) blend with hypnotic beats and layered vocals to create an epic sound palette. Once you add Mariah's formidable voice and T-Pain's rap into the mix, you're left with a most irresistible concoction. That's not mentioning the fabulous lyrics that will no doubt have a lasting impact on pop culture. I've been wowing my friends all week by suggesting we migrate to McDonalds. Just don't make the mistake of declaring that you need to migrate to the toilet because that just drew blank looks...
Touch My Body - 9.5/10
I hated "Touch My Body" the first twenty or so times I heard it but the chorus eventually became lodged in my brain and I now consider it one of Mariah's better singles. The appeal of "Touch My Body" lies in its simplicity. The sexy lyrics and uncluttered, almost sparse production (courtesy of The Dream) make this breezy mid-tempo groove a memorable piece of pop fluff. Make sure you track down the awesome Seamus Haji remixes. Unfortunately, only one of them is available from Australian iTunes.
Cruise Control Ft. Damian Marley - 5.5/10
Mimi takes a brief reggae detour on "Cruise Control" with mixed results. I love the verse where she puts on a faux Jamaican accent only to sound like a crazy white woman who has just demolished a bucket bong but apart from that this effort is distinctly average. Damian Marley injects some life into the proceedings but even he can't revive Jermaine Dupri's sluggish production.
I Stay In Love - 8.5/10
Bryan Michael Cox has co-written some of Mariah's biggest hits over the past couple of years including the brilliant "Don't Forget About Us" and "Shake It Off". "I Stay In Love" isn't quite in the same league as those anthems but it does stand out as one of the few songs on "E=MC²" to showcase Mimi's fabulous voice to any great extent. Mariah has faced a lot of criticism for her vocal acrobatics in the past but I really think the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Restraint is a virtue but I'd like Mariah to drag out her dog whistle and really let loose every now and again. As it stands, "I Stay In Love" is a pleasant mid-tempo ballad. The song is actually quite sweet if you ignore the trashy lyrics about riding shotgun with the roof down!
Side Effects Ft. Young Jeezy - 8.5/10
"E=MC²" really does feature the who's who of urban pop producers. Scott Storch takes over the controls for "Side Effects" and delivers a hook laden anthem complete with electronic bleeps and beats. It's also one of the few songs to contain lyrics that venture outside the club or the bedroom. "Side Effects" is a none too subtle jab at ex-husband Tommy Mottola ("I was a girl you were The Man, I was too young to understand") and offers some interesting insights into their failed marriage. This isn't your usual urban pop by the numbers and it's all the better for it.
I'm That Chick - 9.5/10
This is probably what Madonna wanted "Hard Candy" to sound like before Timbaland turned her into an embarrassing Keri Hilson impersonator. "I'm That Chick" is an utterly infectious dancefloor anthem that can only be described as urban disco. Produced by Stargate, the Norwegian team behind Rihanna's "Don't Stop The Music", "I'm That Chick" is Mariah's most instantly appealing track since "Fantasy". With killer beats, lyrics that subtly reference smoking marijuana and a chorus more addictive than crack, this positively screams out to be a single! A hugely enjoyable dose of classic Mimi.
Love Story - 3.5/10
Jermaine Dupri needs to stop ruining albums with his coma inducing slow jams. If Mimi was smart she would have locked him out of the studio after hearing Janet's shiteous "Discipline" album. Instead she was left with this mammoth bore that stands out as one of the few truly rubbish tracks on the album. Skip this shit.
I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time - 9.5/10
Asian prostitutes finally have an anthem of their very own! Given the trashy title, I wasn't expecting much from "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" but it turns out to be one of the album's absolute highlights. A throwback to 70s soul music (someone please remind me which Debarge song it samples!) with a distinctly contemporary edge, this gem shows Mariah in a completely new light. Mimi really needs to explore this sound further in the future instead of simply treading water with mid-tempo grooves featuring rent-a-rappers. DJ Toomp deserves special credit for his fresh and inspired production.
Last Kiss - 5/10
"Last Kiss" immediately loses a point due to the unnecessary introduction by Janet's troll husband. The song itself is inoffensive enough but it could easily be slotted into any Mariah album since "Rainbow". If I want to listen to Mimi on auto-pilot, I'll just drag out my copy of "The Emancipation Of Mimi". "Last Kiss" is more filler than killer and really should be gathering dust on a recording studio shelf.
Thanx 4 Nothin' - 10/10
Yet another Jermaine Dupri production, "Thanx 4 Nothin'" stuns by not being completely shit. I hope Janet dildo whipped that troll after hearing this gem! "Thanx 4 Nothin'" follows Dupri's usual mid-tempo blueprint but it avoids his usual mediocrity with its universal lyrics and Mariah's heartfelt vocals. Everyone can identify with the subject matter and it's nice to hear Mimi finally let loose. The song is also jam packed with catchy vocal hooks and interesting production flourishes. A gem.
O.O.C. - 7.5/10
After a duo of slow jams, Mariah raises the tempo with a typically bouncy Swizz Beatz production. "O.O.C." is an enjoyable mix of samples, unusual hooks and meaningless lyrics that never really goes anywhere. Not that it matters. The whole point of "O.O.C." is to make people move and it more than achieves that goal. Given the number of different producers who worked their magic on "E=MC²", it is a surprisingly cohesive album.
For The Record - 8.5/10
Mariah finally unleashes the dog whistle - better late than never! "For The Record" is another collaboration with Bryan Michael Cox and this is a more worthy successor to "Don't Forget About Us" than "I Stay In Love". In fairness, both songs are very similar but "For The Record" has an almost haunting quality that "I Stay In Love" is missing. I love the strings and Mimi's vocal delivery. I have a feeling this will grow on me more with each listen.
Bye Bye - 0/10
"Bye Bye" is one of the most cynical and shameless marketing exercises I can think of. An obvious attempt to corner the mourners previously exploited by "One Sweet Day", expect to hear this abomination blaring out of a funeral home near you. "Bye Bye" would be completely vomit inducing if it wasn't so fucking catchy thanks to the ingenious Stargate team. I hate the fact that this shit becomes stuck in your head after the second listen. Who really wants to be humming a disturbingly saccharine death anthem on the way to work? "Bye Bye" has already been selected as the second single in America but I hope Australia is spared this appalling exercise in false emotion.
I Wish You Well - 3/10
A boring piano ballad that feels completely out of place on "E=MC²". It's nice to hear a real instrument after 13 songs of bleeps and samples but this is completely underwhelming and sounds more like a demo than anything else.
Heat - 5.5/10
I gave this an extra point for the crazy way Will.i.am pronounces Mariah at the beginning of the song: "It's Maaa-Rye-Aaah"! I'm usually quite a fan of Will.i.am's productions but this song sounds like something Fergie rejected for "The Dutchess". No wonder it ended up as a bonus track.