By Justin Ocean
Mariah Carey’s latest album, “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel,” finds the R&B super-songstress back in the driver’s seat of the heart with a collection of laid back slow-jams, power ballads (what else?) and booty-bouncing first single “Obsessed.”
Catching up with the diva as she makes her busy publicity rounds in New York City, Carey is exceedingly candid about her motives, but keeps it classy when we press for parallels between the songs and her more public splits, spats and smooches.
“Yes, there are very many specific moments of my life in this album, especially the ones that are kind of cutting and filled with sarcasm,” Carey demures. “At the end of the day, I’m a jokester. I don’t take stuff that seriously. Some people are like, ‘I’m gonna get you!’ They’re angry. I’m not like that. I’ll give you a funny little lyric and then laugh. I feel like there are so many little jokes and comedic moments put in there.”
For her gay fans, behind the playfulness lies a deeper, more serious message that she’s trying to impart. She explains: “I had written a song called ‘Imperfect.’ It was mainly for those of us who get stuck on trying to compete with an unrealistic image. None of us are really angels, but some of us try.” The song didn’t make the cut, but the name and theme stuck.
Referring to her “Butterfly” album’s gospel-flavored “Outside,” Carey continues; “For me that was about being multi-racial, bi-racial, but a lot of gay people have told me it’s an anthem of theirs because it’s how they felt. So last night a guy, I don’t want to say gay guy because he didn’t tell me, ‘Hi, I’m gay’ – I don’t really like to put people into boxes because that’s been done to me my whole life – he showed me he had a lyric from the song tattooed on his arm. I see that and can only say, ‘Wow.’
“I’m grateful I’ve been able to help people through those dark moments of not knowing whom you can relate to, whom you can be honest with. If you could just be yourself that would be great. That’s the imperfect angel thing. There are still a lot of things that are painful to me that I wish I could change that I can’t. But I can try.”
Conceived as a tribute to love at all its stages – from the twittering days of first kisses to trauma-strewn dissolution and all the profundity and enveloping goodness in between – “Memoirs” sees Carey flexing both her writing and producing talents, in addition to her well-established vocal prowess. With the exception of a soaring gospel rendition of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” a song chosen with the help of hubby Nick Cannon (“If you ask him it was his idea, but if you ask me, it was mine!” she laughs), every track was the product of a three-way collaboration with Terius “The-Dream” Nash and C. “Tricky” Stewart, the duo behind Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” Their unified mission: give each song a diary feel, like a conversation between friends – blunt, intimate and revealing, with a riding humor throughout.
That wit, catchier the more ridiculous it gets, can be traced to the easy sense of creative freedom she had working with Tricky and The-Dream, casting their shared vision for “Memoirs” as less an emotional rollercoaster and more a complete journey. Songs segue from one emotion to another with an easy grace and a few unexpected interludes and connecting twists, such as the drumline reprise to “Up Out My Face,” adding sonic spice to already caustically clever rhymes of the saucy flippin’-the-bird main track.
Carey hesitates to classify her 12th studio album as her most personal, but she is quick to count it amongst her proudest, considering it her most cohesive body of work as producer. Already the top-selling female recording artist in history, the next weeks will see if fans agree and can push Carey to the top of the No. 1 heap. Her last album, “E=MC2,” had her surpassing Elvis’ record of No. 1 hits (as scored on Billboard’s Hot 100); only two more and she’ll tie with The Beatles’ all-time high of 20.
“You know what, it’s just weird,” she says, contemplating her legendary status. “I’m so thankful. I have so much faith, and I’m so grateful to God for everything I have, but I’m just a regular person sitting here under a comforter talking to you on the phone, having a glass of wine, being like, OK, cool – ya know what I mean?”
Music industry accolades or not, Carey can rest assured knowing, despite 2001’s “Glitter,” she could actually have a second career as an actress. In her latest project “Precious,” a soul-gutting and fortifying tearjerker of a film based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, she plays a pivotal role as a social worker to an abused Harlem teen. The film’s already getting major response. Backed by Tyler Perry and Queen Oprah herself, film festival buzz has Oscar contender written all over it. So can we see more IMDB entries in her future?
“I can’t even tell you! It’s another side of my creativity that I am so thankful for,” she effuses. “I love singing. I love writing. I love producing. But I only am a creative person. That other side of the brain, like where you’re scientific, doesn’t exist for me. So out of the two sides of my creative self, I get to use this other side and it’s amazing. It allows me to let out emotions I (didn’t) know I ever had.”
Check out Between The Lines next week for our review of Carey’s “Memoirs.”