Mariah was one of my 'firsts' from way back with "Vision of love". So the fact that she's still around making music, I just... *grabs a Kleenex*
Now. Mariah's gone through some rough career patches. She saw her first during Glitter and her second with the ill-timed, poorly promoted Me. I am Mariah. An album which was released in the midst of shitty management, really bad live performances and odd public appearances. A real shame considering that it really wasn't that bad an album and it featured what have now become two of my favourite Mariah songs - "Faded" and "You don't know what to do".
Fans knew that Mariah was not on her A-game or fully on her shit then, because we know what Mariah is like when she fires on all cylinders and is really in it for some wigs. We experienced it back with Butterfly, again with The emancipation of Mimi and we're seeing it again with Caution. 8 minutes into this album, I was like...
Mariah has never been an artist to take grand risks with her albums. We may get a song or two which has Mariah dipping her toe into a different wheelhouse (i.e Emotions' "Make it happen", Me. I am Mariah's "You don't know what to do"), but for the most part Mariah has been giving us the same albums for years now, only really switching things up somewhat with The emancipation of Mimi. Caution is by no means a reinvention. This is Mariah doing Mariah. But the execution is what sells this record. The newness is in the details. Mariah feels like she's fully embracing herself and her musical accountability. The subject matters of her songs and her delivery is direct on near enough every track, which is refreshing from an artist who can sometimes write quite superfluous songs (Caution isn't entirely exempt from this. Yes. I'm looking at you "8th grade"). The songs are short and sweet, there's no beating around any bushes and Mariah no longer buries sections of her songs in a multitude of vocal layers or extra word play. Although we do still get words like 'trepidation', 'ambivalent' and 'reiterate' thrown into songs. Mariah has a new lease of life in her which permeates this entire album. It feels like you're listening to a whole new Mariah, but the familiarity is still there.
Caution manages to do what Memoirs of an imperfect Angel did, but got none of the credit for; which is managing to sound like it's pulling form different albums in Mariah's discography without sounding like direct copies of the original song. There's a touch of the aforementioned with songs like "One mo' gen", an ode to Bryan Tanaka's stroke game. The sharp playfulness of E=MC² strikes back in "A no no". The album highlight "Giving me life" feels like a re-imagining of Butterfly's stand-out "The roof". And the piano ballad "Portrait" tinkers away with a similar vibe to that of "Languishing" from Memoirs of an imperfect Angel, which in-turn was reminiscent of "Petals" from Rainbow. Caution showcases Mariah's knack for being able to deliver new songs, that remind you of her older songs and yet still feel completely new and fresh. A truly commendable feat considering the array of songwriters and producers who may be involved at any given time.
There's a stronger sense of self awareness with Caution, which contrasts strongly to Me. I am Mariah. An album which felt like it was pulling Mariah in lots of different directions and was plain delusional in every way, from it's title, to it's cover to some of its songs. Caution feels much more grounded and streamlined. It knows its lane and stays in it.
As has become customary for Mariah, Caution features has a slew of Hip-Hop guest features that few other artists would be able to grab for an album. All of whom feel like great fits for their respective tracks, but could have done with a few more bars than they were given. "The distance" wouldn't be what it is with out Ty Dolla $ign. Dude is all over the track and sounds like he's haunting the damn thing. But his verse feel severely cut short. "Giving me life" features the legend that is Slick Rick, a rapper whose lyrics Mariah has referenced several times over the course of her career and even does so on "The distance". Slick Rick gives a great verse to fit Mariah's narrative of reminiscing an old love. But as with Ty on "The distance", Slick's verse feels cut short. A common thread which runs through all of the guest features on this album is that there are no actual exchanges or back and forths between Mariah and any of the rappers. Mariah was one of the first artists I knew of who would ad-lib, harmonise and riff over rappers who were on her tracks. It was such a small thing, but it made a huge difference in making them feel like they were a part of the song from the start. But there's none of that here. I would have loved to have heard her harmonise with Ty Dolla on "The distance", exactly as she did on her live performance of the song on Jimmy Fallon. To have a back and forth with Gunna on "Stay long love you". Or to have had odd moments here and there with Slick Rick on "Giving me life". It's a small thing and the lack thereof doesn't ruin the songs by any means. It's just a small detail that I appreciated from Mariah way back when. But each feature on this album feels wholly justified, as they all give great bars that fit each song. The biggest crime as far as guest features are concerned is not having Lil' Kim feature on the consent anthem / Stella diss track "A no no", which samples her 1997 bop "Crush on you". We can always hope for a remix.
Now. Let's just be real about Mariah's vocals. Father Time be try'na pull an Ursula on Mariah's vocal chords. She is not able to jump around that octave scale and pull a whistle out like it ain't shit how she used to. In fact, Mariah doesn't belt a great deal on this album at all. But the thing to note with Caution is that Mariah finally seems to be accepting that her voice isn't what it used to be, as opposed to trying to sing songs like it still is. And by opting to tap into other facets of her voice and embracing the change, she manages to sound better for it. As time has gone on, Mariah has developed a rasp to her voice which I genuinely love. Mariah also goes into her lower registers a lot on this album and she sounds great. It adds such texture and sells a couple of the song concepts better than if she were to do that whispering shit or belt her way through the entire song. Mariah sounds sultry on the hook of "One mo' gen" and genuinely sounds like she's try'na get more dick. Her lower register has her sound chilled and pensive on "Giving me life". Mariah singing in more comfortable registers will also work wonders for her when she performs these songs live. Every song of Mariah's in the past was always a case of singing normally for the whole song and then belting and screaming for the last run of the chorus and then ending on a whistle. There's a whole lot less of that here. In fact, the only song she really does it on is "With you", which is probably the weakest song and most predictable song on the whole album.
After the sprawling and bloated Me. I am Mariah. Caution is kept at a lean 10 tracks. Mariah's quality over quantity approach works well here and the only songs that I'd deem filler here would be "With you", "8th grade" and "Stay long love you", But these aren't bad songs. They're just not as stand out the others. Surprisingly, "GTFO" (a song I wasn't wholly keen on when it first dropped) works nicely as part of an album and fits in with the other songs. "With you" feels like the albums' obvious ditch attempt at servicing something pop tinged and palatable to radio, because you can't get more radio than a DJ Mustard recreating "We belong together". He's the one producer on the album that seems the most calculated amongst a roster that feels wholly organic. The irony being that "With you", the only single off of Caution isn't the most single worthy song on this thing. But we done knew that the second we heard "The distance" and "A no no". The Japanese edition of the album features the bonus track "Runway" which has the whole piano vibe going for it, but knocks much harder and sounds much more radio ready. It also has a set of self empowerment lyrics, which not only feel personal to what Mariah has experienced over the past 4 years, but feels more poignant now in the wake of Glitter having topped the US iTunes chart 17 years after its release. An album which was once a sole representation of a low point in Mariah's life.
The production across this album is incredibly tight and consistent, especially given that each of the 10 tracks is produced by a different person / set of people. 20 in total, not including Mariah herself. Showing that she is, as she's always been; the foundation and the glue that ties everything together. Some of the producers behind this album are also surprises, at least for me. I damn near choked when I saw that Dev Hynes was involved with this album, lending his talents to the album stand-out "Giving me life" and bringing in Blood Orange for it's instrumental passage for the final 2 minutes of the song, giving it a total run-time of 6 minutes. I never would have thought we'd get Mariah and Dev working together given the difference in their styles, but they manage to meet each other half-way and deliver a song so good, that I've been kneeling behind pews for Mariah to pull a Solange and give me a whole EP with Dev Hynes. If you'd told me that Skrillex would produce for Mariah and give her laid back Isley brothers sounding banger, I'd tell you to get the fuck out. But he does just that. Me. I am Shook. Now, you would have thought that Mariah and Timbaland would have worked together already by now, but this marks their first time working together on original material. "8th grade" is very tame for Timbaland. If you were to guess which song on this album Timbaland had produced, you'd swear that the No I.D produced "Caution" was his doing. The final minute of "8th grade" has Timbaland doing his classic 'Rickit! Rickit!' ad-libs; almost as though he's aware that this isn't his most signature beat and that he'll need to let people know that he was involved, especially with it being a Mariah Carey song. "8th grade" is nice, but it's filler and any of the other producers on this album could have given it. Timbaland is that guy you go to to give you a song that only he can give. So I'd be lying through my wig if I said that I was disappointed in Timbaland not giving me Mariah on a classic Timbo sounding banger. But, whatever. As mentioned prior, No I.D. brings the fire for the album title track, showing that Mariah loves her a Hip-Hop producer, that she's not one to shy from even the most hood of beats, but we done already knew this.
This album doesn't reinvent any wheels. But it delivers what is easily one of Mariah's most consistent albums to date. The whole thing just feels like a nice 38 minute vibe from start to finish. There are a couple of tracks worth of filler, but nothing I'd skip. As much as I dragged "With you", it's still a decent song. And whilst I was initially under the impression that we may have gotten all of the most single worthy songs off this thing prior to its release, the remaining 6 tracks reveal themselves to each be potential single contenders if released at the right times.
Caution works in large part because there is a real sense of confidence. Mariah felt she could just be herself, be fun, kooky and not take herself seriously, but still show that she's serious about her craft. With Caution, she absolutely achieves this. Caution manages to sound familiar, but new. Sound like it's pulling from the 80s, 90s and R&B of the early 00s, but still feel current. Caution intersects so many different eras of music and points in Mariah's career, but still comes out forward facing. Artists in the mere infancy of their careers should be praying on sage leaves and tufts of their own hair that they can still be putting out albums as good as this 10 years into their career, much less near enough 30.
I honestly think that Caution might just be one of my favourite Mariah albums. It feels like Mariah finally found herself again. The subtle self referencing on songs, and the subtle, yet very visible reminder of Mariah being part of the blueprint for many of the girls in pop now. The likes of Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, JoJo, Jennifer Lopez and Ariana Grande all owe something to Mariah, whether they care to admit it or not.
Memoirs of an imperfect Angel and Me. I am Mariah saw Mariah stuck in a place where she didn't know whether she wanted to stay where she was, go back or move forward. With Caution, Mariah has created a new standard for herself in terms of what works and where she could take her music from this point onward. No album in Mariah's discography since Butterfly and The emancipation of Mimi have been this succinct and re-affirming. Caution manages to tow a perfect line between feeling like it's for her day ones, but giving songs that knock so hard that non-Lambs will fuck with them for that alone.
If you'd told me 3 years ago that this...THIS would be the album we'd get from Mariah, I would have laughed in your face and told you that I didn't know you.
With the way that we've done Mariah 'no-middle-name-but-it-shoulda-been-Patricia' Carey over the years, Caution may be considered more than we deserve. But it's the album she deserves to have out at this point in her career and as a fan, I'm thankful she bothered.
■ A no no
■ The distance
■ Giving me life ★ J's fave
■ One mo' gen
■ Stay long love you
🔊 Stream Mariah Carey's Caution: Spotify | Apple music | Google Play