It’s often been said that Mariah Carey has little humility, but how much of that is just for show? Four years on from the flamboyantly-titled Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse — a commercial failure, though one modest critical acclaim — Mimi is back, and in an understandably more vulnerable state. Carey’s latest, Caution, is her first record since the disintegration of her marriage, and it has the most laid-bare lyrics that she’s offered in some time. The album’s title-track is mostly comprised of reasons for Carey to doubt the possibility of her own happiness — though it’s also armed with the defiance of a woman scorned, and quite uncompromising in its shade of past lovers. Carey’s anxieties about various, highly publicized (perceived) failures or failings — her excesses of divadom, wearing clothes that are two sizes too small, her divorce — converge supremely on lead single “GTFO,” the video for which sees Carey perched on a kitchen counter, in her best négligée, glass of red wine in one hand and fur stole in the other, as if at home waiting for the plumber to ‘service her boiler.’ This sort of tongue-in-cheek play on her own media persona, clearly orchestrated though it is, nevertheless serves to reinvigorate Carey’s lasting appeal as a popular music icon.
What’s most exciting about this album is the sense that Carey means to represent the very particular experience of a more mature woman
Mariah’s tentative falsetto emphasizes the feeling of a woman wronged on “GTFO,” and her soft phrasing of “Bulldozed my heart as if you planned it” and “My prince was so unjustly handsome” sells the caustic sentiment. The rest of Caution generally never quite lives up to this standard: “Stay Long Love You” scans as a weaker version of 2002’s dynamite Busta Rhymes collaboration, “I Know What You Want,” and “Portrait” is a particularly platitudinous piano ballad. The nadir of the album, though, is wannabe-anthem “The Distance,” which aims to take a stab at the speculation surrounding her break-up, but is either too repetitive lyrically, or plagued by such lines as “For life, for life, la di da.” On the other hand, and despite a title that sounds like something your one year-old might splutter out as their first words, “A No No” is a rather amusing put-down track, especially as Mariah sings, “Off with your head, now slither out the door / Snakes in the grass, it’s time to cut the lawn.” The title track as well is a playful highlight, and issues a warning to potential suitors: “Proceed with caution, don’t make me wait / Before too long it just might fade away.” What’s most exciting about this album, though, is the sense that Carey means to represent the very particular experience of a more mature woman, one navigating the perils and pitfalls of love, endeavouring to learn from past mistakes, and feeling the need to exercise caution, instead of letting herself go all-in.