The elusive comeback

Today marks the release of Mariah Carey’s ridiculously titled 14th studio album, “Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse” in the United States. The set dropped yesterday in the Philippines and a few other territories even earlier. As of this writing, the Deluxe version, with three additional songs, is at the number one spot on iTunes Philippines, and the Standard version trails at number five.

“Me. I Am Mariah” is a significant release because it’s the diva’s first full-length set in five years, the longest gap between albums for her due to a string of postponements. Back in the ‘90s, she was notorious for introducing new material almost every year. So the lambs (that’s what Mariah fans are called) had to wait a long time for this event.

Reports yesterday indicate that the album topped the charts in 20 countries, most of which on the strength of pre-orders alone and without a current single to bank on. While this feat is nothing new for the young crop of current music superstars, such as Adele, One Direction and Katy Perry, it says something about Mariah, who has been in the business for 24 years, making her debut in 1990 (an entirely different time for pop music) with the instant smash hit, “Vision of Love,” that showcased her unparalleled five-octave vocal range.

The diva went on to snag 18 Billboard Hot 100 number one singles, the most of any solo artist and only behind the Beatles. She is touted as the only active recording artist to potentially surpass the Fab Four, which must presumably put a lot of pressure on her, given that her last chart-topper was 2008’s “Touch My Body.” Could the “elusive” 19th number one be on this record?

If the three pre-release “buzz” singles are any indication, probably not. “#Beautiful,” the first (and supposedly, lead) single, was a minor hit, reaching the Top 20 of the Hot 100 this time last year, and got a platinum certification in the US. But the buzz was unsustainable since the album release date had to be pushed back indefinitely after Mariah dislocated her shoulder on the set of a music video. The follow-up would arrive a full six months later, in the form of the traditional R&B ballad, “The Art of Letting Go,” which failed to create any hype. The last single was Valentine’s Day’s “You’re Mine (Eternal),” yet another slightly sleepy slow jam.

Little did anyone know that the then-upcoming album would be so much more than those three songs. As Mariah has said in various interviews, it was a “cohesive body of work” that had to be listened to in sequence to be fully appreciated, much like a concept album. And she was right. Within the set, “#Beautiful” and “You’re Mine (Eternal)” made so much more sense and even sounded better. (“The Art of Letting Go” was relegated to the bottom end of the deluxe edition and is, therefore, not officially part of the album.)

Artistically, critics and fans agree that this is as good as any comeback could be, perhaps even better than Mariah’s own “The Emancipation of Mimi” in 2005, which put her back on the music map after a half-decade slump with the career redefining hit, “We Belong Together.” Some have compared it to the quality of 1997’s critically acclaimed “Butterfly” and others have suggested that it’s her best since 1995’s “Daydream.” All the rave reviews point to one thing: that a 19th number one might not be so elusive after all.

Disclosure: This writer is a lamb.

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