Mariah Carey, SECC, Glasgow

SECC, Glasgow

Mariah Carey should be sexy, and perhaps to some people she is. Tonight she sports a series of shiny dresses, walks with a dainty shuffle, flicks her hair, flutters her eyes and, perched on a piano centre stage, accidentally flashes her knickers. It's all a bit embarrassing.

Then again, arenas have never been the best places to develop an erotic frisson. Big gestures are better, and Carey's bustling Charmbracelet tour certainly does not stint on spectacle. Dancers strut their stuff, backing singers compete to out-warble each other and two suited men on stilts pull a girl from side to side with bits of string. A man dressed as a clown paints Carey, showing the audience the results before starting afresh, keen to capture the elusive spirit of the artist in all her trials, triumphs and costume changes.

Carey has certainly had her problems. She suffered a breakdown in 2001, her semi-autobiographical movie, Glitter, was universally panned and she was paid $28m (£19.6m) to leave EMI after the first album of a five-record deal. Such setbacks merit a degree of sympathy, but it's hard to muster too much compassion for a woman who thinks an octave-strafing shriek is the best response to inner turmoil.

Most of the capacity crowd don't seem to share these reservations, cheering mightily when asked to chose between Petals and Can't Take That Away. Sensibly, she plays Can't Take That Away, which is the one on the set list.

It's not all bad. Fantasy sources Talking Heads, while Hero carries all before it - almost - on a wave of melodrama. And Carey does something to scotch her reputation as the biggest diva in the business by getting on famously with her backing band. She still has her career, and she still has her fans. But, as titles such as Glitter and Charmbracelet suggest, Carey the performer is all about surface sheen. Baubles are fine. You just wouldn't want to spend an hour and a half staring at one.

· At NEC, Birmingham, tomorrow. Box office: 0870 909 4133. Then touring.


James Smart

The GuardianTramp

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