Plenty of people have looked up to Mariah Carey over the years, but has anyone ever related to her? It seems impossible: from the beginning, with 1990's plastic-soul-gone-pop "Vision Of Love," she's never seemed especially personable. (Or even, frankly, human.) She was a hit machine in a very literal sense: Her songs were inescapable, most of them sounded alike, and they seemed like they were never going to stop, until the belly-flop of Glitter and her attendant public meltdown. It wasn't just well-wishing that made 2005's The Emancipation Of Mimi the first Mariah Carey album with a sense of urgency: She'd also calmed down as a vocalist, removing many of her fripperies and mannerisms, and bearing down hard on the lyrics in songs like "We Belong Together." Which gave Carey's music something else it had never previously had—subtlety.
So it's only natural that E=MC2 is a more formulaic (maybe even robotic) variation on Carey's previous triumph. But much of the album uses that formula cannily. "Touch My Body" is airily teasing, though much more effectively in the stacked backing vocals than on the occasional vocal breakouts. "I'm That Chick" is appealingly coy, Michael Jackson-quoting disco that's safe as milk, but goes down like Strawberry Quik. That isn't too far from the way the album works as a whole: It's skillful and winsome enough that the other hits it spins off will stay pleasant, if not revelatory.