Words: Cliff Joannou
When Mariah dropped her fifteenth studio album, Caution, last year, nobody expected it to be the most critically acclaimed of her career, giving her another Top 5 Billboard chart hit.
With radio’s tendency to avoid playing music by ‘vintage’ acts (you won’t hear Madonna, Kylie or Cher on Radio 1) a breakthrough hit single eluded its release, yet the album made its way onto virtually every ‘best of 2018’ end of year list, from Rolling Stone to i-D.
And deservedly so, sublimely walking the line between retro Mariah balladering ('With You' and seriously underrated 'The Distance') and her more contemporary R’n’B side ('GTFO', 'Stay Long Love You').
It’s the rock and the hard place Mariah finds herself in today. During the '90s she broke down music’s barriers as the first mainstream artist to integrate hip-hop into her pop music, then re-working those tunes into massive dancefloor classics (check the Morales remixes of 'Fantasy', 'Dreamlover' and 'Always Be My Baby') yet she was most known for her huge ballads that helped her shift 200million plus records and 18 Billboard number ones.
It might have been the Caution album world tour, but the set list at last night’s Royal Albert Hall concert was designed to satisfy all fans, with satisfying results.
The biggest cheer for the night came from a surprise performance of 'Endless Love', sung with long-time backing singer Trey Lorenz, forgoing their usual rendition of 'I’ll Be There' in favour of something fresh. The last time she performed the song was with Luther Vandross over twenty-five years ago on that very same stage.
Earlier unexpected song choices 'Love Takes Time' and 'Anytime You Need A Friend' received rapturous applause. While the Fantasy remix and Glitter medley ('Never Too Far', 'Last Night a DJ Saved My Life', 'Loverboy', 'Didn’t Mean to Turn You On') are perfect examples of why Mariah has attracted such a loyal fanbase after the #JusticeForGlitter campaign of last summer saw the soundtrack rise to the top of the Billboard charts 17 years after its first release.
Most people in the UK know her for big hits like 'Hero' and 'Without You', which she delivered with note-perfect bombast, loyal lambs know that most of Carey’s finest moments live in an impressive back catalogue that she unjustly rarely performs. If ever there was an artist that needed to tour her “B-sides”, it’s Ms Carey.
In terms of stage and costume design it was perhaps her finest show to date, looking slick on stage without the need of the OTT campery of her last two Christmas shows at The O2. I’d have been happy with a couple less outfit changes, and a couple more songs, of which there are just too many to choose from. But it wouldn’t be a Mariah show without those ensembles.
The trademark Mariah sass was in full force as she sashayed on stage, “I’m not good at following the rules,” she told the crowd, before later throwing shade at an overzealous lighting technician: “The degree of light on my dress is a bit intense, so if you could turn that down a bit.”
At the end of the day it came down to one thing: that voice. And she was undeniably on point from beginning to end, sounding the best she has in years. Mariah Carey arrived at the Royal Albert Hall and regally blew the roof off like the pop queen she is.