CD: Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi

(Def Jam)

Jenny-from-the-block Lopez made a big mistake when she tried to convince the world that there was a plantain-frying homegirl under the Versace jerkins. The disbelief and scorn it provoked has clung to her ever since. Undeterred, "Mimi" Carey is renouncing her own highfalutin' past and reverting to her childhood nickname (though the album sleeve reveals that designer vixenwear is exempt from emancipation).

It's easy to scoff (a sleevenote extract: "Emancipation: to free from restraint, control, oppression or the power of another"), but Carey does seem to have undergone a transition, presumably generated by the knockback of being paid to leave her last record label. The result is a tough cookie of an album.

Despite its grim title with its visions of messy self-absorption, The Emancipation of Mimi is - mostly - cool, focused and urban. Her buddies Nelly, Twista and Snoop Dogg set the hip-hop tone, making Carey sound like a guest on her own record, but even when she lets them dominate, it's quality domination. A headbanging Fatman Scoop rap may define It's Like That, for instance, but Carey is very much a presence, unfurling her three octaves judiciously.

Judiciously is the key word; there's the odd lungful of diva-belting (Mine Again is horridly reminiscent of that nightmare duet with Westlife), but in the main, she's sparing with it. She's at her most persuasive on the skittering Stay the Night and the gently sensual Get Your Number, which are the first Mariah Carey tunes in years I wouldn't have to be paid to listen to again. Not bad, "Mimi".


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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