Mariah Carey embraces her extremes: She's either grinding out R&B-hop or singing syrupy ballads, talking dirty or cuddling with a Hello Kitty. Her tenth studio album is no different: It starts in a club and ends in a church. Carey tries on reggae with Damian Marley's scorching "Cruise Control" cameo, conjures a text-message title for Swizz Beatz's flute-loopy "O.O.C." ("out of control") and dials cool Seventies soul with "I'm That Chick" (where she compares herself to ice cream, Tupac and a blunt). She sounds the freshest when she fires up her Tommy Mottola resentment on the bumpy, Young Jeezy-assisted "Side Effects" and lives the high life on Danja's hard-hitting head-nodder, "Migrate," which dabs her vocal with Auto-Tune. But nearly every song confines Carey to four-note verses, offering little room for her glorious range, and the six ballads are drenched in yearbook-quote lyrics that never quite work themselves into the froth of The Emancipation of Mimi. Yet 2008's Mimi is also about redemption, and she brings it on the closer, "I Wish You Well," proving all she needs is a piano and a few Bible verses to save somebody — most likely herself.
- Mariah Carey
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