Any fan of Mariah Carey’s eponymous debut LP has likely been disappointed with her more-recent, better-recognized work. Her initial opus was an auspicious offering that displayed her considerable vocal talents and this melodic crooning was further showcased, and her merit validated, by her fantastic performance during “MTV Unplugged.”
Since then, Mariah has consciously moved away from that vocalist niche and instead set up shop in the world of hip-hop (neighbored to the west by the inferior town Nellyville), securing her place as a prominent R&B star known for catchy hip-hop collaborations with rappers like ODB, Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z. However, following her well-documented and much-lampooned nervous breakdown and break up with Sony Records, the embattled singer has returned on a new label with a very eclectic, underwhelming album.
On Charmbracelet, Carey appears torn between the various styles and images she has previously cultivated during her 12-year career. This confusion and ambivalence makes many of the record’s opening songs unimaginative and trite. There are standard ballads, like lead single “Through the Rain,” generic medium-paced R&B tracks, like “The One,” and tired rap-laced tracks, like “Boy (I Need You).” (This last track is particularly unfortunate, as it is simply Carey singing over Cam’ron’s “Oh Boy” with a new verse from Cam addended to the end.) The album’s first half is so bad – boring, formulaic, and hollow -that not even guest appearances from Carey’s standby, Jay-Z, and his Roc-A-Fella disciple, Freeway, can save it from being skip-worthy on a CD player.
If one were to listen to this record from beginning to end, he or she might be ready to turn it off by the eighth or ninth track, but that would be a mistake. Carey is able to shake off the rust she accumulated while, most likely, pitying herself in various negligees (as her turn on “MTV Cribs” demonstrated) and produces some quality songs set reminiscent of Mariah at her peak during both her smashing entrance into music conscience and her reign as hip-hop diva. The hip-hop infused “You Had Your Chance” and “Irresistible (West Side Connection)” are both decent head-bobbers, while “Sunflowers for Alfred Roy” is a well-arranged song reminiscent of Mariah’s “Vision of Love” era – a refreshing revival.
Ultimately, though, Charmbracelet will leave listeners disappointed, because not even the record’s better songs make up for the awfully forgettable ones that are too frequent throughout this LP.