Here’s the punch line: Mariah Carey. Now write your own joke.
That’s basically what Carey has become for most people, following her embarrassing movie bomb “Glitter,” the accompanying flop soundtrack and the fact that her former record label, Virgin, paid a reported $30 million just to get rid of her. Where once she was America’s singing Stepford-like sweetheart, she has become a living farce — Anna Nicole Smith with a five-octave range.
But with the release of her new album, “Charmbracelet,” out today, Carey is trying to change that image. And she’s using her greatest asset: that voice. When employed correctly, Carey’s pipes can convey a range of colors: earthy indigos, sun-dappled golds and blinding, ethereal whites. And her phrasing, which draws from pop, R&B and gospel, gets sharper with each release.
Indeed, the main problem with the “Glitter” soundtrack was that she didn’t sing enough. There were too many guest rappers taking up valuable song space.
Much of “Charmbracelet” works. “You Got Me,” with rappers Jay-Z and Freeway, is Carey’s sexiest hip-hop romp since 1997’s “Breakdown” with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. And “The One,” produced by Atlanta’s Jermaine Dupri, is a lean, grooving number about rediscovering love.
Carey even picks up on this season’s trend of pop confessionals. (Jennifer Lopez fawns like a schoolgirl over fiancée Ben Affleck on the tune “Dear Ben,” and Justin Timberlake takes aim at his ex, Britney Spears, in the song — and creepy video —“Cry Me a River.”) On the pointed “Clown,” Carey goes after rapper Eminem, who has claimed in songs and interviews that he and the singer once dated. “You should’ve never intimated we were lovers / when you know very well we never even touched each other,” she sings on one of the album’s best cuts.
Too bad she’s not mad on more of the album. For the most part, “Charmbracelet” shows that she’s back to where she was before the “Glitter” misstep. But next time out, she’s going to have to prove herself capable of more.