Mariah Carey's "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel": A Defense


This is for real, for real, for real.

Oprah Winfrey-full segment, for real, for real.

No fooling.

I won't beat around the bush here: I adore Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, Mariah Carey's latest, less-than-feted disc. (I'm not sure how many times I've listened to it, but it's probably somewhere close to 50 or 60 plays.) Songwriting partners Tricky Stewart and The-Dream (who put out an album of his own last year that was totally unfuckwithable), the under-heralded team that produced most of Angel, are geniuses, and deserve at least a couple parades in their honor. And anybody who contests -- or has dismissed Angel and is all psyched up about forthcoming, rapper-heavy remix album Angels Advocate -- that can fuck right off, or at least get up out my face. You're probably part of why Carey's planned Minneapolis concert -- it was supposed to go down on this week -- got canceled. (Okay, that's a stretch. But a promoter could not be found for a fucking Mariah Carey concert? Seriously? This world is fucked up.)

The general lack of commercial and critical enthusiasm for Angel was disheartening, as if calculated to offer proof positive that if a songbird of a not-quite-cougar vintage wants to move units, she has no choice but to stock her album with ring-tone-ready club bangers, bow-throwing rappers, and gratuitous sexual innuendo.

When she first made the national scene in the 1990s, Carey generally eschewed guest stars and sauciness. Then she spent most of the '00s embracing those elements. Not buying that? Go back and revisit "I'm That Chick," or "Touch My Body," or "Say Something"; sure, they're not quite as explicit as "Stapleton Sex" -- after all, what is? -- but they're tawdry-if-bashful grown-folks fantasies designed to complement Carey's bootilicious photo shoots and 12-year-old-in-a-thirtysomething's-overdeveloped-body image.

By contrast, Angel -- which has been dismissed as not being "personal" enough -- strikes me as a more out-and-out Mariah album than the last couple have been. A sweet, sultry collection of soft boudoir ballads, barbed repremands, and spiritely dismissals bobby-pinned together with light, airy keys, fingersnaps, handclaps, and the odd "Radio Killa" ad-lib courtesy of Dream, Angel registers as a record that reflects Carey's actual life; it's not hard to believe that this woman lounges around in next-to-nothing her giant mansion pining for first loves or smothering husband Nick Cannon with affection or seething because somebody screwed her over or cheated on her or, you know, cranking some Ol' Dirty Bastard/Jodeci mash-up shit Jermaine Dupri threw together, just for her, because she's feeling nostalgic.

Listening to Angel is like lounging around in the Playboy Mansion with Mariah while she coos, impassioned -- in a voice far lower than her characteristicly stratospheric almost-outta-human-hearing-range melisma, but that's hardly unappealing -- about everything and not much of anything, all at once. She is not a lover or a sex object; she is an older sister, a close pal, an alluring confidante who does all the confiding. She needs an ear to bend. She will not go all out; she is mostly in a murmuring mood. She is, by and large, chilling; she would like you to chill with her, to join her in admiring the airbrushed, paisley-pink furnishings and the humonguous rococo-style portraita. Savor the corny, Dream-penned non-sequiters, the way songs threaten to dissolve before your very ears, the fact that the only voice on Angel of any significance is hers -- which is as it should be.

To be fair, Angel isn't perfect; it wasn't solid enough to make my Pazz & Jop Top Ten list, though it came damn close, and "Ribbon" bumrushed my P&J Singles list. But there are more than a few wonderful moments on this silken security blanket of an album, which -- in an exceedingly difficult year -- were of great comfort to this listener.

I love the ludicrousness of Harvard Class shout-out in "Up Out My Face," and how the hard, pronounced stiletto-strut of the beat gives way, albeit subtlely, to a loose-limbed, swaggering stride as the song winds down, and the sense of unseriousness inherent there (and all over Angel, really), with Carey and Dream cracking up laughing at different points in the mix, as if there was nothing much at stake there, just buds screwing around in the studio for laughs.

I love that "Up Out My Face (The Reprise)" exists, that Carey felt the need to enlist a high school marching band (or a ProTools version of a high school marching band, anyway) to drive the titular point home, even if doing so made her look slightly desperate, like someone belaboring the point because she cared too much even though the point was that she was, you know, over it.

I love "Obsessed," even though it's a slightly weak Eminem diss track and the video is creepy. I love how "Languishing" is just caught in a never-ending state of melting, like a stick of butter in the Mojave desert that keeps reconstituting itself and never quite seeps into the sand.

I love how "Inseperable" manages to make a likely break-up not really a break-up, maybe, how desperation flips to hope again and again, how the song rips off Cyndi Lauper. I love that Carey and Dream probably watch Maury Povich, though they're probably never shocked by any of the outcomes.

I love how "Ribbon" is just a long, warm, goooooooooooey embrace that makes the listener feel like a stack of pancakes being drowned in Log Cabin maple syrup (not low-fat), a lot of it. (Or maybe molasses. My grandmother used to put that on pancakes; she's from South Carolina.) And how Dream throws in all of those "ey, ey, ey" ad-libs, as if he meant to get a word in edgewise about something, but Carey wasn't having any of that. Oh, and the basso loop on the choruses! "Ribbon with a BOW on it. Ribbon with a BOW on it." Those choruses! They are so complicated, with vocal parts and samples and synth mattrices and stuff happening; they're like a esctacy-lubricated Kuma Sutra of production wizardry.

How can you deny all of this creamy, dreamy pop-diva goodness? I just don't get it.