CAUTION, RELEASED NOVEMBER 16, 2018
Since its release in November 2018, Mariah Carey’s fifteenth studio album Caution almost hasn’t aged. (Just like the Queen who created it). Lauded with rave reviews by critics upon its release, adored by the loyal Lambily in every waking minute since, the album still sounds as fresh and impressive as it did on day one. Twenty-eight years into her career, Mariah Carey crafted an impeccable album that ushered in the third phase of her career.
PROCEED WITH CONTEXT
Phase one marked her debut and rise to “it-girl” status; she reigned for 11 years as the Princess of Pop/R&B, racking up 15 #1 singles, 9 multi-platinum albums, including nearly 3 diamond albums (her debut frustratingly sits at 9x Platinum, for now), becoming Billboard’s Artist of the Decade.
Phase two was marked by her comeback with the 6x Platinum The Emancipation of Mimi, which produced her 16th and 17th #1 singles and the most successful single of her career, with which she cemented her iconic status. Capped off with her 18th #1 single, “Touch My Body,” and followed later by the hits “Obsessed” (#7) and “Beautiful” (#15), Mariah Carey’s status as an iconic hitmaker was cemented. Also during this time, she was slowly but surely assumed her title of “the Queen of Christmas,” as “All I Want For Christmas Is You” began an unstoppable ascent to classic-status, beginning in 2004.
Now, since the release of Caution, Mariah Carey stands loftily in Phase 3, bearing the title of Legend that she so valiantly earned. Since 2015’s #1 to Infinity Las Vegas residency, Mariah has quietly been amassing more of the respect she so deserves. Part of the cause for delay was Mariah herself. Though she has a reputation for being an overdramatic diva, she is in all actuality quite modest, and humble. She’d always shy away from talking up her accomplishments, spouting off her resume, or allowing herself to be honored. Though now, something has changed and she seems more willing to embrace, and celebrate, her legendary status.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Caution serves as the musical accompaniment to that new narrative. On Caution, Mariah is on point in every way. She delivers a cohesive body of work that lives up to her title as Legend. Her writing is up to her own gold standard, her vocals (though subdued) are flawless and unmistakably Mariah, and the production sounds current, yet feels classic. There are songs on this album that will sit comfortably among the best songs of her entire career, side-by-side with some of her 90s classics. Yes, the album is THAT good.
Personally, I always find it hard to process a new album immediately after its release. I like to live with it for some time, and reflect upon it retrospectively. So, I decided to do a track-by-track review, ranking Caution‘s eleven tracks from least to most favorite. Please, Mariah and Lambily alike, don’t take offense. I literally adore each of these songs, so its just a question of how much, relatively! So, here we go.
Japanese bonus track “Runway” is one of Mariah’s two collaborations with producers Skrillex & Lido on the album. I adore the lyrical sentiments of the song, and the use of the “Butterfly” sample was indeed clever. However, the high-pitched sample is a bit overdone and, thus, I really have to be in the mood for it. It’s also probably the most poppy song on the album and feels a bit out of place on the otherwise very modern R&B sounding album. Leaving it off the standard version definitely makes sense, sonically – and quality-wise, too. Still, its triumphant message would have been an uplifting closer to follow “Portrait.”
10. “With You”
The album’s official lead single “With You” comes next, mostly because I have to be feeling a certain vibe for it. “With You” is an interesting song in that although it’s a happy song in theory, its vibe is almost somberly reflective. It’s a total quiet storm jam and though its subdued vocally (like most of the album), it delivers excellence via its melody and gorgeous and oh-so-Mariah lyrics. Like, how can anyone not adore the allusion to 1997’s “Breakdown,” in the song’s bridge: “He said ‘yo, I been lovin’ you so long, ever since that Bone Thugs song, you ain’t gotta breakdown you’re too strong.'” Impossible. That, combined with the lush chorus that manages to feature a classic Mariah-style references to an expensive liquor (“shots of Remy”) and a now-nostalgic album (“playing Confessions, our bodies blending”), as well as both an SAT-level word (“but we muddle through”) and an obscenity (“damn I fucks with you”). Queen pulled out all the stops on “With You,” from allusion to imagery. My ONLY gripes about the song are… 1. Why was it the lead single?, and, 2. “DJ Mustard on the beat.” Be quiet, sir.
(Also, what happened to video of that gorgeous AMA performance?!)
9. “Stay Long Love You”
This really is so hard. For me, this and “With You” are almost equals, but I had to bump “Stay Long Love You” up ahead because it is such a bop. In a discography of mostly mid-tempos and ballads, a high quality bop from Mariah Carey is highly appreciated, and “Stay Long Love You” does not disappoint. Co-produced by The Stereotypes, famous for their work with Bruno Mars, its a unique yet not at all out of place addition to Queen Carey’s catalogue. Slinky, sexy, and sweltering, “Stay Long Love You” adds straight fire to Caution. Good luck getting it out of your head.
8. “One Mo’ Gen”
I can’t lie, the Janet fan in me loves when the self-described Mary Poppins gets a little nasty, and “One Mo’ Gen” is just that. If “Honey” and “Bliss” had a lovechild, it’d be “One Mo’ Gen.” Sensual yet sassy, this mid-tempo jam finds a very demanding Mariah owning her diva attitude in a quest for pleasure, “one mo’ gen.” She opens the song asking, “did you like when I put my lips there?” – need I say more? Shout out to Tanaka.
7. “8th Grade”
When thinking of a word to describe “8th Grade,” the first that comes to mind is “thought provoking.” When we first found out the track listing, myself and other Lambs alike all wondered what on earth this song could be about. Upon first listen, a lot of us were still confused. In a tweet, Mariah explained, “The title reflects on the melancholic feeling I used to have as a kid.” The main takeaway I get from “8th Grade” somehow brings me back to the lyric from 1997’s “Close My Eyes,” when she sings, “maybe I grew up a little too soon.” On the Timbaland co-production “8th Grade,” she’s reflecting on that, singing about how she was sort of above the silliness of teenage romances, because she “grew up … too soon” and saw through it all. On “8th Grade,” she asks, “Maybe the lyrics are too heavy in my song?” and then sings, “I’m not your world, I’m not your life – tell me what that means to you.” Here, she almost chides the potential crush, rejecting the notion of seemingly immature expressions of affection that teenagers (and some adults) throw around rather carelessly. The fact that Mariah can still create a song like this 28 years into her career, that can on the surface sound so simple yet still incite such thought… that is the stuff of legends. And genius songwriters. Both of which describe Mariah Carey.
6. “The Distance”
My biggest pet peeve about “The Distance” is when people say it features a rap. “The Distance” is a duet with singer Ty Dolla $ign. While he may rap as well, on “The Distance” he is singing! Anyway, the song is such a feel good moment, a true anthem that had potential to be a modest hit for the pair. The performance of the song on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and its lyric video implied it was being considered, but that never came to fruition, sadly. It would’ve made a much better choice of lead single. Seemingly an ode to her new relationship with choreographer/dancer boyfriend Bryan Tanaka, “The Distance” is a timeless sounding song that sings of love and resilience.
The album’s first release, buzz single “GTFO” still punches. I’m not sure there’s an artist out there that could pull off a song like “GTFO” so impeccably; only Mariah. How can one song sound so beautiful yet so shady? It’s an art that only Mariah Carey is a master of. She slides over a hard beat, fluttering vocals delivering those four biting words: “get the fuck out.” Also, those background vocals and adlibs?! Genius. Listen closely, because that is Mimi’s arena. Though a bit too chill to make a splash on the charts, “GTFO” was instantly memorable for its memes and quotable lyrics. The only thing it was missing was a club mix. The gay clubs were practically begging for it. Actually, if you’re reading, Mariah, it’s not even too late… we’ll still take it. Soaring vocals singing “get the fuck out” over a hip-hop house beat? Slay us eternally, Queen.
It wouldn’t be a Mariah Carey without a song like “Portrait.” Written alongside her musical director Daniel Moore, the ballad is a heartbreakingly honest depiction of Mariah’s state of mind. She takes an introspective journey, bearing her soul because that is the true foundation of the bond she shares with her fans. With its piano driven melody and orchestral finale, “Portrait” provides a dramatic view “beyond the looking glass” into the life of music’s most successful female singer-songwriter. Ultimately, the message is that she is “down, but not demoralized,” and for anyone listening, to remind yourself, just as she does: “don’t let go,” because “the moment will subside.”
3. “A No No”
I almost wanted to place “Portrait” ahead of these next two songs because in my mind it should be, but Apple Music’s 2019 replay got me together, letting me know that “A No No” was my most played song of 2019. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, because its a fun, sassy, certifiable bop. Laced atop a sample of Lil’ Kim’s classic “Crush on You,” featuring the voice of the Notorious himself, what more could you ask for? (Aside from a remix with Lil’ Kim and Cardi B). “A No No” serves as yet another reminder that Mariah can still deliver a radio-friendly bop, and that her “MC the Emcee” pen is still on fire, because the lines she spit are something fierce. Honestly, she should be included in discussions of the best female emcees. Fight me on it.
Every single time this song plays, I feel butterflies through my entire body (no pun intended). Something about “Caution” just feels amazing. That Carribean-tinged guitar, that bass, and Mariah’s untouchable delivery of her expertly crafted lyrics and melody all come together to create one of the best songs she’s ever recorded. “Caution,” co-produced by the legendary No I.D., is indeed worthy of title track status. The production is simply stellar. The melody is infectious. The vocal fills your spirit. Most people expect introspective lyrics to be regulated to piano ballads like “Portrait,” but actually if you look deeper, “Caution” has some of the most introspective lines on the album. The album title is perfect, just like the song its taken from.
1. “Giving Me Life”
Finally, the best song on Caution is indisputably “Giving Me Life.” Mariah Carey and Dev Hynes is a winning combination, not to mention the addition of hip-hop legend Slick Rick. Where to begin with this phenomenal song? It’s unlike any song she’s ever recorded, yet at the same time is so Mariah. From the moment the track begins, it creates its own mood. The Eddie Murphy soundbites are so seemingly random yet indescribably perfect. The lyrics are so vivid, descriptive and intriguing. They engage the listener, transporting you into the world of this masterful track. Just when you think its over, the song morphs into a whole other mood with the extended outro featuring a guitar solo by Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), with Mariah serving riffs and adlibs atop his playing. More often than not, when I listen to “Giving Me Life,” I enter a zone; a place only music can take me to. Sometimes, when I am there, I remind myself that this is my favorite singer singing a song she wrote and produced twenty eight years into her career. There have been times this thought has filled me with such intense admiration and inspiration that it literally brings tears to my eyes. “Giving Me Life” does just that. It gives life to fans, and gives life to the argument for Mariah Carey’s legendary status. “Giving Me Life” is the perfect representation of the Caution album, and the Mariah Carey of today. A song fit for a legendary Queen, “and it’s everything.”
Oh, and witnessing the only live performance of the song at her New York City stop of the Caution World Tour was an outer body experience. Watch:
Listen to Vincent’s Caution, Ranked playlist: