Remember when Mariah Carey was, more than anything else, a singer?
Today, music is just one of the pop/soul diva's many pursuits, an occupation on equal footing with her judge's gig on "American Idol" and the hours she spends posting tubby-time pictures on Twitter. (She's also expected to appear this year in "The Butler" by director Lee Daniels, who cast her in "Precious.")
As recently as the mid-2000s, though, Carey seemed fully invested in the business of making (and promoting) hit singles. Even in 2010, when she touched down at the Gibson Amphitheatre for a pair of highly entertaining concerts in support of 2009's highly uneven "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel," she made sure to demonstrate that she can still flatten a room with "Hero."
In contrast, last year's "Triumphant (Get 'Em)" had an almost non-musical vibe, as though the single, featuring Rick Ross and Meek Mill, had been created solely to reveal that Carey had befriended two of rap's current stars.
"Triumphant" failed to chart on the Hot 100.
Carey's new song, "Almost Home" -- it's tied to Disney's "Oz the Great and Powerful," scheduled for movie theaters next month -- feels like a return to that earlier time. Produced with characteristic electro-pop precision by the Norwegian duo Stargate, it's not quite a killer -- certainly not as great nor as powerful as "Emotions" or "Always Be My Baby" (or "Breakdown" or "We Belong Together").
But the midtempo song seems entirely built around Carey's vocals, which arc upward until they crest in a key change that delivers the thrill we've grown to expect from her. It's an old-fashioned appeal to think of Carey anew.
Listen to "Almost Home" below.
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