Mariah Carey 'E=MC2': Aidin Vaziri | The best thing Mariah Carey did was go bonkers on MTV, where she handed out popsicles, shed clothes in front of a live audience and, for once, came across as a normal human being. Seven years after the incident, she's regressed to the Teflon pop princess she was in the early '90s, capable of knocking out an endless stream of midtempo R&B ballads without revealing any real emotion. "Put me on the floor/ Wrestle me around/ Play with me some more," she sings on "Touch My Body," a single from her new album that sounds just like her last hit, "We Belong Together." The lyrics suggest a filthy throw-down, the clinical production of a sexual harassment suit. Her gravity-defying vocals have been processed to death on otherwise promising cuts such as "I'm That Chick" and "O.O.C." If the CD sleeve didn't prominently feature her name and face, you would never guess that it was the owner of one of the most beguiling voices of the past two decades who was singing on top of the politely thumping beats. Meanwhile, even the creative directors at Hallmark would thumb their noses at "Bye Bye," a sentimental song that seems to have been made exclusively to be played at funerals. The stripped-down "I Wish You Well" is nice, though, with Carey belting it out in full glory, accompanied by only a piano and a small gospel choir. Which proves that if you're going backward, at least go somewhere interesting. It's not rocket science, Mariah.
'In The Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2': Aidin Vaziri | It's hard to believe this didn't come out two decades earlier, when both U2 and Africa were pressing concerns for the pop world. Not that it matters; acts on this album such as Angelique Kidjo, Les Nubians and Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars have mostly chosen to stick with songs from the Irish band's vintage years anyway. Bono may work hard raising awareness about the troubled continent, but its musicians repay him fully here by giving his songs new life. Ba Cissoko puts a transcendental spin on "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Vusi Mahlasela comes up with a version of "Sometimes You Just Can't Make It on Your Own" that's even more hair-raising than the original and the Soweto Gospel Choir's minimalist take on "Pride (In the Name of Love)" makes a good case for sending all of U2's music to church. Vampire Weekend is probably so bummed it wasn't invited to the party.