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Album reviews: Mariah Carey, Smashing Pumpkins and Anderson .Paak

What you should and should not listen to this week.

Mariah Carey


(Epic ***½)

Mariah Carey is out with her 15th studio album (!) in time for the holidays with a major change in game plan for the best-selling female artist of all time. With Caution, she’s pulled back from vocal acrobatics and showy high notes — Mimi’s signatures — and moved on to something subtler, yet still grooving in a ’90s R&B fashion, for her five-octave range.

The flickering trap-funk of “A No No” — sampling Lil Kim’s famed “Crush on You” — and “Giving Me Life” [with old-school MC Slick Rick and new-school avant-garde soul man Blood Orange) are the two most delicious moments of ’90s recall on an album touched by nostalgia. The No I.D.–produced Caution is filled with sensual relationship demands (“I need you closer to love me harder”) and a jittery rhythm that would’ve felt at home on any Destiny’s Child album. That said, Caution isn’t stuck in time or good romance. The contemporary chord changes on the piano-driven “Portrait” sound wind-driven and propelled. The shouted-down “GTFO” has a bedrock groove and dreamy ambiance, and the spare, airy “The Distance” is slick electronic soul of the highest, most elegant order. She may be wonky on occasion, but never mess with Mimi when it comes to getting storming, sleek R&B right. -- A.D. Amorosi

Smashing Pumpkins

Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.

(Napalm **)

Maybe the reunion with guitar monster James Iha, bringing three-fourths of the old magic back into the fold, and a tour promising only the old (good) stuff, was enough to make you check on Infowars-supporting, D’arcy Wretsky-gaslighting Billy Corgan in 2018. Because it sure wasn’t their album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. Plus maybe even the concise, how-could-he-screw-it-up run time of 32 minutes. But these onetime, er, zeitgeist, heroes are still fully commandeered by Corgan, whose nasal drip is mixed terribly loud on “Marchin’ On” and who has no riffs nor thoughts left worth entertaining. Rick Rubin even-keels all the force out of Jimmy Chamberlin’s still-combustible drumming, and only the canned Pixies riffage of “Solara” approaches the intense old times on the worst-titled album in a career of contenders. And yet it’s fully listenable, even radio-ready, which some will term a success. But Corgan’s lying about the past, may have a point about his future, and could use a little sun. — Dan Weiss

Anderson .Paak


(Aftermath ***)

Oxnard is the third in Anderson .Paak’s series of albums that take their titles from California locales crucial to the singer-rapper-drummer’s artistic development. It follows 2014’s Venice and 2016’s breakout Malibu, and it’s the first to be released on .Paak’s mentor Dr. Dre’s label. It’s an impressive display of all of .Paak’s various skills. As a vocalist, he has deeply relaxed throaty raps that conjure up R&B masters like Curtis Mayfield and Freddie Jackson, and his easy way with sinewy gangsta funk makes for a natural alliance with Dre, who employed the younger artist on multiple features on 2015’s Compton collection. Dre executive-produced Oxnard and surely had much to do with bringing in the array of featured artists, including Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, and the not-to be-underestimated Snoop Dogg on the standout “Anywhere.” So many guests end up adding to Oxnard’s lack of focus, however. It’s amusing enough, but I’m not sure what the point is of sampling an old Rodney Dangerfield Tonight Show bit at the start of “Trippy” (which also features J. Cole). .Paak is a tremendous talent, but Oxnard’s songs don’t invite you in with personal details as effectively as those on Malibu did, and this is not the album where he puts it all together. -- Dan DeLuca