No, I’m not writing this to discuss her marriage to bad actor/bad rapper/semi-funny comedian Nick Cannon. Hey, if Mariah’s happy (after what seems like decades of bad relationships), then more power to her.

I’m writing this to discuss the slippery slope of suckitude that her music has bobbled around for nearly a decade now. Not that Mariah’s ever been a particularly consistent listening experience-even this diehard pop fan can’t think of more than 2 or 3 Mariah albums completely worth your time. However, her last two albums in particular have been hailed almost as masterpieces by a segment of the critical community when they’re, well…they’re not very good.

Hey, I don’t want to hear “Hero” again either, you know? But I can see what people are getting at when they turn their noses up at “hip-hop” Mariah. Not only has she caught the same excessive collaboration bug that’s afflicted just about every pop & R&B performer of recent days, but she seems to have regressed lyrically. She’s never exactly been Joni Mitchell (or even Mary J. Blige), but her earlier songs had a maturity to them that newer songs like “Touch My Body” completely lack. And “Touch” is one of the *better* written songs on her new “E=MC2” album.

Despite the fact that “E=MC2” is well on it’s way to unseating Jack Johnson as 2008’s best-selling album, it’s not much different qualitatively than Mariah’s two relative “flops”: “Glitter” and “Charmbracelet”. From the hip-hopped out “One Sweet Day” rewrite of “Bye Bye” to about 4 or 5 songs that directly rip Mariah’s comeback smash “We Belong Together”, the album is overall a lazy and unadventurous experience. And while contemporaries like the aforementioned Blige seem to be at their creative peaks in their late thirties, Mariah (who’s just a year and change older than Mary J.) seems to be regressing. Listen to “Love Takes Time” or “Can’t Let Go” (two of her best early career songs) and then listen to…well, just about any song on “E=MC2” or even half of “Emancipation”. The difference is almost startling.

For my money, her best work came on mid-career albums like “Daydream” and “Butterfly”. The former album is her only completely satisfying listening experience other than her debut. I can even tolerate her somewhat sappy cover of Journey’s “Open Arms” (although I’m not sure I can say the same about the overwrought Boyz II Men collaboration “One Sweet Day”, which I’ve deliberately avoided listening to for at least a decade) but it’s the album that best balances “Adult Contemporary Mariah” with “Urban Mariah”. The latter album ODs a bit on the collaborations (“Breakdown” with Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony, is particularly atrocious), but makes up for it with a wicked awesome song built on Mobb Deep’s unforgettable “Shook Ones” sample (“The Roof”), her all-time best ballad (the title track) and a truly bizarro cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” with Dru Hill (‘memba them??). She’s more or less been off the rails ever since. And even though I own each of the five albums she’s recorded since, there’s maybe an album and a half’s worth of great material between them.

Despite her astounding success (hell, she has more #1 singles than anyone except for the friggin’ BEATLES) and the fact that critics seem to actually dig her nowadays, it’s probably safe to say that not only has Mariah’s music been decidedly average for the past ten years or so, but that it’s *never* been consistently great. How she’s sustained a two-decade career as (more or less) nothing more than a pretty solid singles artist is one of those mysteries I don’t think I’ll ever figure out.

…but it might be interesting to see her as a guest on “Wild ‘N Out”…