Mariah Carey, comedian? Jokeshave never been Carey’s forte, but on her 12th album, she gets in touch with her funny bone, adding a cheeky marching-band coda to the thumping club jam “Up Out My Face,” threatening to out a cheating lover on national television in “Betcha Gon’ Know” (“Oprah Winfrey whole segment, for real”); even poking fun at her own vocal signature, those stemware-shattering falsetto trills (“Love me down till I hit the top of my soprano,” she coos in “More Than Just Friends”). The levity reflects the company Mariah is keeping: Every track on Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel was overseen by Carey and the ace duo of The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, who have been known to spice their dense, inventive R&B concoctions with yuks.
The result is Carey’s most sonically and tonally coherent release, a mix of love ballads (“Inseparable”) and sassy breakup anthems (“Standing O”) that might have been her best album had it been several songs shorter. Memoirssags in its second half, on songs such as the tepid “Impossible” and “Languishing (The Interlude).” By the time Carey’s plodding cover of “I Want to Know What Love Is” rolls around, the joke’s on her listeners.