Mariah Carey - Caution (Review)


In 1990, Mariah Carey started off as one of pop’s talented performers. Like Whitney Houston, Céline Dion, or a couple of years later, Christina Aguilera, she had a near perfect and very powerful singing technique, in addition to one of the biggest vocal ranges in popular music (five octaves), and her songs were the perfect stage to demonstrate her abilities. With her fifth studio album Butterfly (1995), she underwent a stylistic change, and instead of delivering either dramatic ballads or powerhouse synth pop bangers showing off her incredible singing skill, she switched to an intimate, seductive contemporary RnB style that did not rely as much on boastful diva moments as it did on calm and atmospheric production with a hip hop swagger and poppy melodies. Powerful belting and notes in the whistle register were traded for breathy vocals and playful delivery. In either style, she was on top of the game, and knew exactly what she did. Her first few albums highlighted her singing talent better, her later records were more mature on an artistic level and contain her highlights as a songwriter. Her first four albums left you in awe, everything afterwards made you sink into the mood she wanted you to get lost in.

Caution continues the tradition of the latter. Occasionally, her high vocals are mixed into the background but overall, it’s a sensual record. And one that doesn’t need to be vulgar to be erotic. Carey tastefully, classily expresses what she wants and what she expects, over laid back, tender beats that underline her soothing crooning. With this musical premise, she explores the complicated topic of relationships with all their ups and downs. That Mariah Carey is a lady, and independent, she makes clear in the very first song: the words the title G.T.F.O. stand for have never sounded as little crass. She uses this opener to stress that, whatever follows afterwards, she isn’t going to let anyone toy with her - she maturely understands the difference between having fun and playing someone. Similarly, A No No deals with leaving the past of a horrible relationship behind, and with such a sassy attitude that it’s almost impossible not to chuckle out of empathy.

But we of course also have songs embracing the positivity of both love and sexuality. The title track Caution puts you into a trance with its warm slightly funky synthesizers and electrifying sung melody, and lyrics about finding the right pace but still remaining passionate. It’s one of the songs of this decade that understands best that sexiness doesn’t necessarily mean being dirty (although it can, there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself). It’s more about the build up, rather than the act itself. With that thought in mind, One Mo’ Gen feels like a sequel to it. In this song, Carey already is in a rush of pleasure and doesn’t want it to end yet. Again, she knows that sometimes less is more. Love is the big topic of The Distance. Don’t let that title fool you, it’s not a break up song, it deals with the problems a relationship can have when the couple is in the public eye, and how the press misinterprets gestures and situations - but how it can’t shatter an honest, emotional bond. Then there is Giving Me Life, a 6 minute long, musically very enchanting tune that appears to be about reliving a love that ended several years ago, but always keeps vague about its true story.

Caution might be the most irresistible vision of how contemporary RnB should sound like these days. The album never feels outdated but hasn’t sold itself to current trends like others. We get modern hi-hats and reverberating synths, but it’s never trap, and the characteristic aesthetics of the genre that it developed in the 90s are still very present. It helps that over the years Mariah Carey grew more elegant, but doesn’t feel older, which results in a sophisticated, passionate album that has the potential to please listeners of several generation equally.