I've always thought that casual Mariah fans generally fall into two distinct camps - those who love her 90s power ballads and those who lap up her trashy pop tunes. If that's true, "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" will disappoint just about everyone as the album is almost exclusively comprised of R'n'B tinged slow jams. I really don't know what Mimi what thinking. What would "Daydream" be without the pure pop of "Fantasy" or the overblown balladry of "One Sweet Day"? How insipid would "Music Box" sound if "Dreamlover" and "Hero" had been left on the shelf? It's like Mariah has turned her back on what she's really great at in a feeble attempt to please everyone. The result is one of the diva's least appealing albums despite the fact that it contains a handful of excellent tracks. Say what you like about the much maligned "E=MC2" but nothing on "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" even comes close to matching the insanely catchy groove of "Migrate" or the disco-pop explosion of "I'm That Chick".
However, it's not all bad. Despite never really getting out of second gear musically, Mimi's 12th opus is something of a concept album and as such, is curiously riveting (if you've just swallowed a mouthful of Valium). The title says it all. Each song plays like a diary entry. There are tracks about the beginning of relationships, make ups, break ups and everything in between. I've always thought that Mariah is a hugely underrated lyricist and I love entering her Hello Kitty decorated world of shameless schmaltz and so bad they're amazing metaphors. As someone who has spent more than their fair share of time on the dating rollercoaster, I found myself identifying with the lyrics more often than I'd like to admit. I just wish Mimi had mixed it up more instead of compiling what is basically 13 versions of the same song with different words. Nevertheless, I'll be importing four or five songs into my Mariah playlist and I'm sure the inevitable remixes will help polish the rest of the turds. Here is my track by track review:
Betcha Gon Know (B+)
The album's opening track sets the tone for the rest of the proceedings. It's a fairly average slow jam covered in The-Dream and Tricky Stewart's grubby fingerprints. I used to think The-Dream was one of urban music's most interesting producers but this album has left me thinking he's almost as artistically barren as Stargate. Thankfully, the song is saved by Mimi's emotionally charged lyrics. I love songs with a storyline and listening to Mariah discover her man in bed with another woman is strangely voyeuristic. I also love bit where she declares the story "Oprah Winfrey whole segment for real (for real), 20/20 Barbra Walters for real (for real)". I want to know how Mimi sorted this punk out!
I think I'm the only blogger who loves "Obsessed". There's something hypnotic about the beats and the lyrics never fail to put a smile on my face. The song should be re-named "How Mimi Got Her Swagger Back" because this is Mariah at her most egotistical and fierce. After all, she is a corporation/press conference! A lot of fans moaned about the autotune but it comes as a sweet relief among the rest of the bogus mid-tempo grooves. I have a feeling this will sound terribly dated in a couple of years but for now it's one of the album's few fun, semi-upbeat tunes and deserves to be appreciated. It goes without saying that the remixes (particularly the Cahill Club Mix) are fabulous.
The title had me worried. I was expecting a text speak urban opus but was surprised to hear one of Mariah's prettiest mid-tempo ballads. This is one of the few examples of The-Dream getting the production just right. The track is crisp and clean with a multitude of little hooks and flourishes. Best of all, the focus is squarely on Mariah's vocal performance, which probably ranks as her best on the album. I love the lyrics. Who hasn't experienced the emotion of trying but failing to hate someone at the end of a relationship? "H.A.T.E.U." is effortlessly pretty and should be high on the list for the album's third single.
Candy Bling (C-)
After starting off promisingly with three relatively strong tracks, "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" starts its slide into R'n'B mediocrity with the tuneless trainwreck that is "Candy Bling". If the prospect of hearing Mariah whisper over a generic urban beat floats your boat, then knock yourself out. Personally, I'd rather watch "Glitter" on repeat. Oh who I am kidding! "Glitter" is one of my favourite movies but this song is shit. The only interesting thing about it is the sample of Ahmad's 1994 hit "Back In The Day".
I hope the rumours of this being a future single are false. There's nothing amazing (or awful for that matter) about "Ribbon" - it's just so bland and disposable. The production is straight from The-Dream's recycled ideas basket and the lyrics are completely meaningless. I do like the layered vocals and any song that uses the word "Boo" gets my seal of approval but with the exception of Mariah's dog whistle at the end, "Ribbon" is pretty mediocre.
Like all the songs that come before and after it, "Inseparable" is a pleasant enough mid-tempo urban jam but you know the song is a write off when the most interesting thing about it is the fact that it rips of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time". The beats plod along aimless and the vocal is quite irritating. I love Mariah's weird whistles and vocal gymnastics but when she gets stuck in the high register I just want to turn the volume down and take an aspirin.
Standing O (A+)
Thank fuck! Just when I starting to fall into a boredom induced coma, Mariah delivers one of the album's best tracks. There's something truly universal about a good break-up song and "Standing O" is surprisingly bitter and cutting - which just makes it all the better. I love the staccato beats and the bitchy lyrics ("round of applause to the biggest fool in the world, give 'em all you got and they still ride out into the sunset with the next girl"). Best of all is the genuinely catchy chorus. This should be a future single. "Standing O" has a rawness that the rest of the album is missing.
It's A Wrap (D-)
You know a song is fucked when the most interesting thing about it is the sound of champagne being poured in the intro. On the bright side, I'm guessing this is a bona fide cure for insomnia.
Up Out My Face (A+)
Hell, yes! This is more like it. Think of "Up Out My Face" as the flip side of "Standing O". Instead of Mariah being the dumpee, this time she's kicking her useless man to the curb and using some of the best lyrics of 2009 to do it. Mimi deserves a Grammy for the line "if we were two Lego blocks even a Harvard University graduate in class of 2010 couldn't put us back together again" alone. That shit gives me the giggles every time! It's a treat to hear a semi-uptempo track, particularly one with a bit of venom and attitude. With a decent remix this could be burning up gay clubs across the globe in the not too distant future.
Up Out My Face (The Reprise)
Hasn't Janet Jackson proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that interludes are always a bad idea?
More Than Just Friends (B-)
Another nice, if totally forgettable slow jam. I like the sample of Biggie's "One More Try" (which in turn samples DeBarge's "Stay With Me") but the track is still DOA. I think The-Dream and Tricky Stewart deserve a lot of the blame. I hate it when producers try to suffocate an artist in their sound (see Timbaland/Madonna on "Hard Candy") instead of tailoring the beats to an artist's existing style (see Timbaland/Nelly Furtado on "Loose"). This just sounds like every other record The-Dream has ever produced and Mariah deserves better than a Christina Milian B-side.
The Impossible (C-)
Yawn. This is just lazy. An incredibly annoying guitar loop and stupid lyrics about loving someone "like free money" do not a good song make. Who exactly is this song aimed at? Old Lambs suffering from marijuana psychosis? This could have easily been a big ballad but Mimi all but whispers the words until the last verse. It's nice that she's trying to show restraint but this is ridiculous.
The Impossible (The Reprise)
These interludes are seriously annoying.
Angels Cry (A+)
I know it's pure schmaltz and completely ridiculous but I love this cheesy shit. It's the closest thing to an old school ballad and stands out like a sore thumb on the album. The lyrics are completely over the top but they appeal to the hopeless romantic in me. "Angels Cry" is the kind of even too cliched for Hallmark rubbish that would make me cry if I someone sent it to me. It's nice to hear Mariah finally sing for a change instead of whispering. This is probably the only song (with the exception of the Foreigner cover) that will appeal to Mimi's army of housewife fans. Perhaps dusting it off as a Christmas single would be wise.
Languishing (The Interlude)
Now this is just getting vindictive.
I Want To Know What Love Is (B-)
I want to love this. On paper it sounds like a great idea. Mariah + choir + 80s classic should equal worldwide #1 smash. Instead it comes off as completely stale and boring. Where is the emotion? Where is the huge vocal delivery that fans have come to know and love? Why does she sound so utterly fucking bored? On the bright side, this is the only song on the album where you can actually hear musical instruments so I guess that's something. A disappointing end to a disappointing album.