@tonibraxton inculcates her latest offering with songs addressing matters of the heart. SEX AND CIGARETTES is a welcomed return to form for Ms. Braxton, but falters due to a brisk trek.
The guitar and strings laden first single, "Deadwood" finds Braxton singing about heartbreak with a soulful conviction that had been missing from previous efforts. Doubling as the opening track it's a declaration of new found boldness. The album finds Braxton gifting listeners with her career best vocals over smartly-crafted beats that accentuate the smooth, buttery tone of her voice.
The record sports a skimp 8 song tracklist, but it's definitely all killer, no filler here. The title track finds her confronting a cheating partner. She handles the verses with delicate intimacy, and the final stretch morphs into an anthem for scorned lovers.
"If you can't be with the one you really, truly love," becomes the central statement of "Long As I Live," as the songstress is faced with a love that has moved on. Braxton is a vocal powerhouse, but her strength doesn't come from high notes or vocal runs. What has always made the diva standout is how the low tones of her voice lend to bittersweet heartbreak. The album is well aware of where her power lies as the lamenting "Coping," the defiant "Sorry," and "Missing" give us classic Braxton-branded heart ache.
"My Heart" is a massive sing-along hit waiting to happen. "I can be right there when you want me to / If we’re a million miles apart / I’d give you every part of me that I could / But the one thing I can’t give you…is my heart," Braxton coos over an acoustic accompaniment about self preservation.
SEX AND CIGARETTES has a downside, and it's the meager runtime clocking in at just under 31-minutes. When you finally get fully immersed in her story, it's already time for the credits. The record has some of the best work of her career, but leaves the listener wanting, nay craving more.
19687:59 PM Sep 14, 2018
While the album's cover depicts a utopian vision as we are embraced by not one, but three Mariahs, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel is one of her most divisive efforts. Carey working with just a single production team (something quite rare for an artist of her stature) gives the record stylistic cohesion, a unified message, and can be a tad too predictable.
Her voice, with its many peaks and valleys, has always been her calling card. But Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel,’ her 12th album, presents her as more of an emotive vocalist and not just a singer with an impressive range. Make that Mariah Carey, song stylist.
Memoirs is a throwback to the simmering R&B of her earlier work, particularly 1997’s Butterfly. Always fond of the big ballads, Carey elevates the sensual slow jam to an art form here.
The album is vintage Mariah. It reminds you that the current crop of superstars can’t beat Carey at her own game.
Carey aggressively pursued hip-hop collaborations in the late ’90s, but here she’s essentially solo and in the capable hands of writers-producers The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. To their credit, The-Dream and Stewart keep the songs mostly uncluttered, and many of them trail off into languid fade-outs, suggesting Carey is certainly not in a hurry.
Starting with “Betcha Gon’ Know (the Prologue)’’ - “Welcome to a day of my life,’’ she begins - Carey introduces the album on a song cycle about love’s pitfalls. When she breaks from the album’s mid-tempos, Carey steps out with sass, especially on the first single, “Obsessed." She cops some welcome attitude on “Up Out My Face,’’ issuing a kiss-off: “I thought we had something special/ That we had something good/ But I should’ve had another mechanic under my hood.’’
Those tracks are left turns on a record that’s otherwise in love with the richness of Carey’s voice. She’s downright delectable on “The Impossible’’ and “Candy Bling,’’ both couched in lush harmonies with Carey breathlessly gliding over the notes.
Memoirs finds Carey in her comfort zone. The effort is an embrace of the R&B of years gone by, and while the production can at times comes off generic, it proves a bold step for the Songbird.
2721012:19 AM Sep 14, 2018
Endearingly ditzy high-camp abounds on E=MC2. The very first notes of the album find Carey swooping around her famed whistle register, revelling in how high her voice can go, before metamorphosing into a synth whistle riff. Over the course of the album, Carey compares herself to ice cream, the lottery, a chandelier, Biggie and 2Pac, weed and her favourite jeans. On the disco bounce of "OOC," she breaks into Italian, Spanish and French in the space of one verse for no discernible reason other than that she can (surely the very essence of divadom). Brilliantly, the music more than matches Carey's flights of fancy. E=MC2 finds Carey continuing down the hip-hop-inflected path she has pursued for the past decade - but in that time, hip-hop has come back to meet her. "I'm That Chick" hitches itself to R&B's current vogue for 4/4 beats, but takes more cues from disco than any other exponent of the trend: it could almost be a track from Carey's own early days.
Carey's gift, though, is not just that she manages to balance embracing her silliest excesses with sincere displays of emotion, but that the two are inextricably linked. Her trademark high notes, for instance: the album opens with Carey parodying them, but when she rolls them out at the climax of the stunning closer "I Wish You Well," backed only by gospel choir and solo piano, their emotional impact is undeniable. Kissing off an ex-lover has never sounded so divinely ordained.
Carey is on fine vocal form throughout E=MC2, whether belting out massive ballads ("Thanx 4 Nothin'") or layering her voice into a swooning bank of a hundred Mariahs ("I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time"). There are perhaps fewer vocal splashes than in her early days, and more nuanced brushstrokes, but that's not a bad thing, and the magnificent "Side Effects" finds Carey at the height of her powers. Over synths as slow as molasses, she intones some of the darkest lyrics of her career, a meditation on the long-term effects of an abusive relationship.
When she sings, "Them other regularities, they can't compare with MC," it's hard not to agree.
3721910:17 PM Sep 6, 2018
At the time of its release, Mariah Carey’s sophomore effort, Emotions, was considered a commercial disappointment, failing to reach the top of the charts and selling just half of what the singer’s blockbuster debut did. In his review, Rolling Stone’s Rob Tannenbaum deemed Mariah’s singing “far more impressive than expressive,” a criticism ostensibly borne out by the album’s titular lead single, on which she proclaims that she’s been “feeling emotions.” Not to put too blunt a point on it, she then tells us, rather than shows us: “I feel good, I feel nice!”
Critics like Tannenbaum routinely griped about Mariah’s reliance on vocal acrobatics, which, they claimed, kept audiences at a remove from her actual songs. Like that of Whitney Houston, to whom she was often compared, Mariah’s voice was indeed almost supernatural, a thing to marvel at from a distance. But the assertion that her music lacked expression, even at this early date in her career, is one that the songs themselves simply don’t bear out. The deliriously joyous “Emotions,” however broad its lyrics may seem, all but mandates a performance of the magnitude that Mariah delivers: Her object of desire has her feeling “intoxicated, flying high,” and though hers might be a literal vocal interpretation, it’s certainly an expressive one.
Soul is a quality that’s impossible to quantify; either someone has it or they don’t. Mariah’s critics claimed it was an essential ingredient that her songs lacked. Her mixed racial heritage was treated as a selling point, but her music was carefully calibrated for both pop and R&B audiences. Songs like “And You Don’t Remember” draw on gospel and Motown, but render those influences in the most palatable way possible. On the other hand, “If It’s Over,” a collaboration with Carole King, doesn’t water down its R&B bona fides with synthesized strings and bass, instead bolstering Mariah’s vocals with brass, Hammond organ, gospel harmonies—an unbridled throwback to the pop-soul hits of the ’60s and ’70s.
On Emotions, at least musically, she managed to strike a balance of soul and pop that’s not just technically impressive, but filled with undeniable, honest-to-god feeling.