Mariah Carey declared her "freedom" in 2005, bolting back to the top of the charts with the album The Emancipation of Mimi, which sold 6 million copies and resuscitated a career that seemed dead after 2001's dismal Glitter.
On her new album E=MC2, in stores today, Carey tries to replicate the feel and sound of its Grammy-winning predecessor. But this time, the musical formula that set "Mimi" free largely fizzles.
By transforming herself into an eternally youthful diva - playing up a juvenile, hyper-sexual image and playing down her incredible pipes - Carey strangely rose triumphant three years ago. The emotional power ballads that established her career in the early '90s gave way to vapid club jams, where the singer's voice served more as an accent.
The Emancipation of Mimi, however, featured a few highlights - namely the summery love ballad "We Belong Together," the most ubiquitous hit of 2005, and the gospel-kissed "Fly Like a Bird." In a bid to repeat that album's success, Carey strictly follows its blueprint on E=MC2.
Here's a breakdown of the not-so-clever album title: "E" stands for "Emancipation"; "MC," well, that's obviously Mariah Carey. And the "squared" refers to the duplication of her career-reviving album. Or maybe it means that the new CD is stronger and better. Or perhaps it means ... well, it really doesn't matter. A majority of the songs on the 14-cut CD is woefully devoid of personality or any other signs of life.
But that apparently hasn't hurt Carey's status as a hit maker. Two weeks before E=MC2 hit the streets, Carey made pop history, beating Elvis Presley's long-standing record for the most No. 1 hits on Billboard's charts. "Touch My Body," the album's first single, became Carey's 18th smash to sit atop the pop listings. But it's likely that the song, in which the singer plays a ditzy, soft-porn temptress, won't be remembered for anything else.
Being a virtual replica of her 2005 album, the new CD also opens with a Jermaine Dupri-produced cut extolling club life. On "Migrate," featuring T-Pain, Carey's voice is heavily filtered, sailing over a thumping beat and whistling synths. T-Pain, whose high tenor is always heavily processed on his records, actually outshines Carey with a more animated performance. But still, the song is a lazy effort.
Carey imitates just about every musical trend heard on mainstream urban radio. But she and her large cast of songwriters and producers, including Swizz Beatz, Danja and Tricky Stewart, offer no imaginative twists or turns on the overly familiar templates.
One of the few standouts on the album briefly sidesteps the robotic, of-the-minute tunes and evokes early '80s R&B.; "I'm That Chick," a warmly melodic midtempo number with a smart, understated vocal from Carey, recalls the smoothed-out disco-soul of Patrice Rushen and Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson. She actually sounds a little invested here.
But elsewhere, Carey is just a disembodied voice, floating over tired ideas.