The timing of the release of Mariah Carey’s latest single, “The Art of Letting Go,” couldn’t be more refreshing. It arrives the same day as Lady Gaga’s new album, ARTPOP, a dizzying kaleidoscope of production tricks and vocal ticks. The simplest of ballads, “The Art of Letting Go,” is a much-needed lesson that great pop music is composed of the most basic group of ingredients—a stellar voice and straightforward orchestrations—even if it’s admittedly not the most explosive track that Carey has ever produced.
“The Art of Letting Go” comes six months after Carey’s breezy, though insufferably titled, duet with Miguel, “#Beautiful,” another stark, barebones track that thrives on the sunny, feel-good call-and-response of its vocalists. There’s an undeniable throwback vibe to the Rodney Jerkins-produced song that recalls “Vision of Love," a ballad stripped down to a piano, heartfelt lyrics, and the vocal pyrotechnics of Mariah.
Whereas so much of Carey’s repertoire in the aughts features the singer breathily cooing over nondescript bass beats, “Letting Go” has the diva back in full voice, even if that whistle register isn’t as strong as it used to be. The lyrics are certainly assertive—“I’m making a statement,” she begins the track, a torch song addressed to an old lover—and brimming with an amusing amount of needless polysyllabic words like “dominion,” “audacity,” and “evidently.” Undeniably, the song’s tagline lyric is more than a wee tedious: “Letting go ain’t easy, it’s just exceedingly hurtful.”
All of that is instantly forgiven, however, when Carey croons the brilliant kiss-off directive, “Go to Mimi on your contacts/ Press delete.”
While there’s so much to be commended for the simplicity of “Letting Go,” it’s hard not to bemoan its glaring downfall. There’s no chorus. Or hook. Or anything to sing along to.
Ok, there is a chorus, but the transition into it is so subtle you hardly realize you’re in it until you hear the song’s title being name-checked. There’s no crescendo into the dramatic, belted-to-the-rafters refrains of “Vision of Love,” “Hero,” or “Without You.” That’s not to say that “Letting Go” doesn’t build. Mimi takes it to church at the end with some epically satisfying praise-Jesus riffing. But the sparseness of the rest of the track combined with the lack of hook keeps the song from elevating from pleasant to superb.
There’s still no release date on Mimi’s new album, her 14th, but both “#Beautfiul” and “The Art of Letting Go,” if not instant classics, at least inspire faith that Carey is planning something exceptional in today’s landscape of occasionally overwrought artpop, prisms, and bangerz: a return to the basics.