Likes: A No No, The Distance, Portrait
Dislikes: One Mo' Gen
Overall: An atypical MC album; passively executed with lukewarm appeal
In the 2010’s, it’s been relatively easy to identify quality or top-tier albums in pop and R&B. They are few and far between, as the proverbial bar has lowered over the years. The sound production is frequently skimpy, wearyingly redundant, and without musicality. Lyrics are egregiously mindless, tacky and casual. Cohesion and consistency are almost nonexistent. The talent is so underdeveloped and ill-fostered, they don’t have the skills to compensate for the other shortcomings. In the end, all you have are records that consist of filler and "cute for the moment" tunes with no enduring power.
An artist of Mariah Carey’s caliber and experience has enough tools in the box to avoid such potholes. Her writing has always been clever and/or poetic, and required a dictionary (she rarely receives proper credit for this). Her sensibilities with vocal and musical composition keep her work effortlessly timeless and irresistible. That said, it’s confounding that Carey’s newest album Caution fits snugly with post-2010 mediocrity. Romantic desire and lust (with a pinch of disgruntlement) are primary subjects, but the slipshod track order constipates the flow of the content and sound. It prevents a feel for theme, especially one worthy of the LP’s provocative title.
Additionally, the most marketable numbers (A.K.A. the promotional singles) are all pushed to the front. This brings attention to the palatability and sustainability issues. Though some songs have mood, attractive traits and $20.00 words, their monotony and/or $0.02 phrasing are overtaking. For example, “Giving Me Life” (featuring Slick Rick and Blood Orange) is noticeably sullen, has an ominous transition, and a curious voice-over from the 1983 film Trading Places. Despite that intrigue, it drones on. You may not make it through to its sixth minute. Otiose F-bombs further diminish cuts already suffering from some hum-drum (ex. “With You”). “Portrait” is a conceptual and stylistic misfit against the other tracks. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was meant for a different project. Its presence is welcomed, however, as it best represents Carey’s pen prowess. Co-writers include Bibi Bourelly, Charles Hinshaw and Priscilla Renea. Some who also functioned as producers are Nineteen85, DJ Mustard, Timbaland and The Stereotypes.
8/10 times, a Mariah Carey record will provide selections to delight in for years to come: evocative singles, songs you wish were singles, and those that will be the center of “most underrated” debates. Caution unfortunately falls in that 2/10 ratio. The half hearted and shambolic execution put it there.