Mariah Carey: Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

RIYL: Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez

Mariah Carey’s last album, 2008’s E=MC², marked the spot where she broke Elvis Presley’s record for Number One singles by a solo artist – and it also boasted the biggest opening-week sales of her career – but it also ran out of steam pretty quickly, petering out after being certified double platinum, a pretty steep comedown after selling 10 million copies of 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi. Carey has, in other words, a thing or two to prove with Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel – which is the situation she’s been in pretty much since 2001’s Glitter imploded in what seemed at the time to be a career-destroying cloud of ice cream and cleavage. She has, to her credit, done an outstanding job of staying relevant in the post-Top 40, post-TRL, and largely post-record industry world, even at the much-ballyhooed expense of everything that made her music special in the first place; she has, in fact, reached the point where the splash surrounding every new album is just as important as its musical contents. She’s an artist who’s famous largely because she’s famous – sort of the MTV equivalent of Charo, albeit with a much stronger set of pipes, not that you’d really know it from listening to anything on Memoirs.

From the outside, it’s easy to dismiss everything Carey has done since Butterfly as vapid, cynical catering to the hip-hop generation, and to an extent, that’s more or less true – but each of her albums has its own somewhat self-contained aesthetic, too. E=MC², for instance, put Carey across as the R&B equivalent of the slutty, insane aunt you wanted to have in high school, nattering on about what’s happening in the clubs and dropping embarrassing “hip” references to the things the kids like. That persona has thankfully been retired for Memoirs, but in its place we get a pretty middle-of-the-road Mariah – one who wants to have her trendy cake (the Auto-Tune frosted “Obsessed”) and eat at the Adult Contemporary table, too (the treacly cover of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”). It’s all very polished and calculated, but those are qualities that have been hallmarks of great R&B for more than 50 years; hell, even “Vision of Love” was a Brill Building-worthy piece of airtight songcraft. No one buys Mariah Carey records looking for wild inspiration – but what many of them do want to hear is a reflection of Carey’s singular, once awe-inspiring vocal talent, and that’s what’s missing from Memoirs. It’s a perfectly entertaining modern R&B album, and one not without its eyebrow-raising wrinkles (chief among them the drumline that takes over the beat for the “Up Out My Face” reprise), but one that, ultimately, could have been performed by almost any anonymous singer.

Oh, sure, Mariah wheels out her usual tricks here and there, but instead of showing off that tremendous range, she throws in a few dolphin calls behind another obnoxiously breathy lead vocal (“H.A.T.E.U.”) and calls it even. To be fair, Mariah’s in a tight corner at this point; she’s long since alienated the listeners who expected great things from her after her debut, and her endless trendjacking over the last decade has made her an artist with a record-setting commercial legacy, but no real artistic identity. About the best anyone can hope for at this point is an album like Memoirs – one that’ll make enough small dents in the R&B charts to extend her cultural relevancy for another release cycle while throwing a bone to AC program directors with a song like “I Want to Know What Love Is,” practically guaranteed to linger near the top of the recurrent charts for at least a year. At some point, Mariah will have to stop flaunting her ta-tas and get back to the business of making timeless music, either because she’s no longer got the physical goods or because Aretha Franklin will finally get fed up with her shit and go slap her into being a real diva again. I only hope that, when that moment comes, she still remembers how to, you know, sing. (Island 2009)

Mariah Carey MySpace page


New Paul McCartney live CD/DVD on the way

Decades removed from their break up, the Beatles are possibly busier than they’ve ever been. Almost every day, an interesting bit of news surfaces with connection to the band. Earlier this week, Lucy Vodden, the underlying inspiration for “Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds,” passed away. Four days ago, an essay written by Paul McCartney when he was 10 about the Queen was unearthed. Of course, this news pales in comparison to The Beatles: Rock Band and the remasters of their entire catalog, which were released on September 9th. It looks like Beatlemania will never end and I couldn’t be happier.

On November 23rd, Paul McCartney will release a 2CD/1DVD package of his performances from earlier this year at New York’s Citi Field. Good Evening New York will highlight each night’s 33-song set filmed with 15 high-definition cameras.

A deluxe edition will feature an additional DVD featuring McCartney’s performance at the Ed Sullivan Theater. The live album will also be issued on vinyl.

The gigs, at which McCartney played songs by The Beatles and Wings, as well as selections from his solo back catalogue, took place on July 17, 18 and 21.

They were significant for McCartney as The Beatles played the venue in 1965 when it was known as Shea Stadium.

This will be McCartney’s second release on Hear Music, which is owned by Starbucks Corporation.


Paramore: brand new eyes

RIYL: Avril Lavigne, Hey Monday, Fall Out Boy

It’s easy to hate Paramore. With her diminutive stature, big vocals, and perpetually scrunched-up face, singer Hayley Williams comes across like a younger, snottier version of Avril Lavigne – an impression that the band’s 2007’s breakthrough album, Riot!, reinforced perfectly. A tightly wound ball of angst and righteous teen anger, Paramore’s music is the perfect soundtrack for emotional adolescents of all ages – and that, coupled with an appearance on the “Twilight” soundtrack, has helped make them one of the few legitimate breakout bands on the rock end of the radio dial. They’ve also been one of the industry’s more heavily scrutinized acts, thanks to their decision to sign one of the first major “360” deals. Bottom line: if your tolerance for Hot Topic bubblepunk is low, you probably burned out on Paramore a long time ago, and are greeting the release of the band’s new album, brand new eyes, with rolled eyes.

But here’s the thing: Paramore isn’t really worthy of your scorn. I wasn’t particularly fond of angst even as a teenager, and now that I’m in my mid-30s, I’m just about allergic to it – but even if you can’t identify with the “me against the world” melodrama that fuels much of the band’s music, it’s awfully hard not to respect them for at least having a pulse. Silly lower-case title aside, brand new eyes glows with a combination of pop songwriting savvy and ragged, messy intensity; even if she seems to see the world in black and white, Williams has a ferocious set of pipes, and she – along with guitarists Josh Farro and Taylor York – has a gift for leavening aggression with bright, easily memorable melodies.

The problem with the band’s music is one that isn’t entirely its own fault – specifically, the crushing waves of compression applied to every major-label album that’s come out in the last five years. Producer Rob Cavallo was handed a band raw enough to air its dirty laundry in its lyrics (“Looking Up” and “Where the Lines Overlap” seem to address the breakup Paramore narrowly averted during the making of brand new eyes), and he promptly proceeded to iron out every stray wrinkle, returning with another piece of brittle, high-gloss product that crushes the music’s emotional dynamic and leaves the listener with a hard wall of sound. Cavallo does have the sense to let the record breathe once in a while; unfortunately, the songs in question (“The Only Exception” and “Misguided Ghosts”) are two of the album’s least interesting, and they come off sounding like love letters to VH1 more than genuine artistic statements.

Obviously, the compression fad isn’t Paramore’s fault, and even if any of them are old enough to remember a time when rock records didn’t sound like shit, they probably don’t have enough muscle to hire a producer who’d go far enough against the grain to really let them sound like a band – but it’s still their name above the title, and ultimately, brand new eyes is more of a punishing than a rewarding experience. It’s unfortunate, because there’s some real talent struggling to work its way out from under this album’s shell, but in 10 years’ time, it’s going to sound as dated as a Nu Shooz record. Here’s hoping Paramore sticks around long enough to really define itself. In the meantime, parents of tweens, consider yourselves warned: you’re about to hear a lot of brand new eyes. (Fueled by Ramen 2009)

Paramore MySpace page


The Dirty Projectors: should I believe the hype?

A couple months back, I watched the Dirty Projectors perform on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” They played “Cannibal Resource,” a song off their newest album, Bitte Orca. I’m very critical of new music. Often, I’ll immediately disregard a band if they look too young, have multiple keyboard players, have stupid haircuts, or use unnecessary, flashy instruments. Yeah, yeah, it’s unfair and mean-spirited but in this day and age where billions of bands are thrust at the public, I think I’m in the right. There’s too much of everything.

On “Letterman,” I really wanted to like the Dirty Projectors. They didn’t seem obnoxious and I appreciated their simple set-up. However, I just felt the odd rhythms didn’t mesh with the fluid singing. Well, I think they hit the ball out of the park on “Fallon.” They opted to play a non-album track called “When the World Comes to End.” Listen as the female gibberish bounces throughout the studio in wonderful harmony. When the lead singer and guitarist ventures into that meaty solo, it just works. This song reminds me of something Stereolab might write. Now there’s a great band.

As you know, the Roots are the house band over at “Fallon.” Band leader and drummer, ?uestlove, invited the Dirty Projectors into his dressing room to see if they were they real deal. That meeting is below.

I don’t know. What do you guys think about this band?


Rusty Anderson: Born on Earth

RIYL: Paul McCartney, Jason Faulkner, ELO

No surprise here. Rusty Anderson, Paul McCartney’s current guitar foil, releases a second solo album that oozes the same vibrant and infectious rock and pop that his boss is so fond of sharing with the masses. However, don’t look for McCartney among the backing crew, although it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he’s lurking in the shadows and maintaining anonymity under an alias. Actually, it’s no matter either way, as Anderson proves more than adept at delivering a set of mostly solid rockers, brimming with fanciful hooks and catchy choruses. Anderson’s approach tends to be rather explosive, as is evident with opening track “Born on Earth” and succeeding entries like “Baggage Claim” and “New Beginning,” but he’s also inclined to flirt with fluffier essence as well, lapsing into mellower terrain with “Timed Exposure,” curbing the tempo with “Where We Would Go?” and attempting some pseudo soul with “Intro.” Anyone looking for Macca comparisons will likely find them in the cuddly “Julia Roberts” and “Under a White Star,” but overall Born on Earth shows that Anderson is comfortably rooted in terra firma all his own. (Oxide Records 2009)

Rusty Anderson MySpace page


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