Mariah Carey briskly shook off the cold commercial response to Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse by switching out much of her inner circle, returning to the Sony family through a deal with Epic, holding a number ones-themed Vegas residency, and touring Europe, among a surplus of other undertakings. The rejuvenation of Carey continues with Caution. A compact, Music Box-sized album, it's unelaborate in presentation and makeup, a measured and understated collection of slow and midtempo R&B ballads. Carey retains almost none of the collaborators who worked on the previous album and uses a different combination of co-producers and co-writers on each of these ten songs. Other than the contributors and the various relationship stages it covers -- flirtatious enticement, celebration, reminiscence, perseverance, rejection -- nothing else about about the album is scattered. No songs are highly energized, but Carey sounds like she's deriving joy from each one, even while she flatly expunges a false lover with "How 'bout you get the fuck out?," delivered in her upper register with part-scarred, part-relieved finesse. Sharper yet is "A No No," in which the deletion of a deceiver is graphically revelrous -- "Off with your head, now slither out the door" -- repurposing Lil' Kim's "Crush on You" in the process. Clever-as-ever nostalgic references are planted elsewhere, like when Carey swoons about "Loving you so long, ever since that Bone Thugs song" and wittily lures with "Addicted to you, come support my habit/Third person, yeah, she gotta have it." Carey is likewise still into rekindling teenage emotions, evident most on "8th Grade," a sweetly Aaliyah-referencing highlight co-produced by Timbaland, and in "Giving Me Life," a stone(d) Blood Orange groove with a grin-inducing appearance from Slick Rick (plus Billy Ray Valentine and Even Bigger Black Guy of Trading Places). At the end is the one proper belter, "Portrait," a strings-and-piano number about emotional suppression and devotion. The escalation in intensity hits hard, even if its imminence can be sensed from the moment Daniel Moore's fingers make contact with the piano.
by Andy Kellman