Mariah Carey has a nickname, Mimi, and a new theme--freedom. The singer's eighth album, "The Emancipation of Mimi," is an attempt to leave behind all her baggage (i.e., an oppressive marriage and some commercial failures) and head for the nearest party. The 35-year-old now sings more club-savvy numbers and does it with rap heavyweights like Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Twista. Multitalented producers including Jermaine Dupri, the Neptunes and Kanye West keep spirits high.

MARIAH CAREY: Is this one of those things where you attack me, and I have to defend why I made the album the way I did?

LORRAINE ALI: It won't be that vicious. I'll talk about your new album--what I like and what I don't like--and you'll get a chance to talk back to a critic.

This could get very abusive.

Look at it this way: all we have to talk about is music. No tabloid stuff.

Ohhh, we like that.

Overall, this album is really vibrant and free. The emancipation theme works right from the first track, "It's Like That."

That's great, because I've never felt so free making a record, though I was worried about even putting the lyric "This is Mimi's emancipation" in there. I worried that it was too corny. Now it's the album title.

It works because this is such a fun, confident record. But there is one recurring theme that becomes a sort of buzz kill: cheating men. I'm never going to trust one again after listening --to this CD. There are so many dogs here!

But it's true. I don't want to sound sexist--in print, at least--but honestly, you know how it is when you talk to girlfriends. Everybody has a story that's really depressing. It's not like I set out to make it that way. I think there's a lot of optimism on the record--but there's a lot of cheaters, too.

My favorite song here is "Say Somethin'." Pharrell and Chad, of the Neptunes, make the most unique tracks out there. This song has an Asian-influenced melody and jazzy beats, but it will be a huge hit with hip-hop fans. This is so far from anything I've heard you do.

You're right. It is a totally different approach for me musically. When I heard it at first I thought it was a cool and interesting track, but I didn't know if it was very me.

But you're totally comfortable here, and even a little slap-happy with the lyrics.

Thanks. I wrote that line "Something like volcanic/You and me seems organic/Just like stars and planets." It's nonsense, but I love it.

Then Snoop comes in right after your celestial bit and drops the megaromantic line: "This track is from the Neptunes. Baby, follow me to the restroom."

[Laughs] I know. It's so sentimental, isn't it? "We Belong Together" is a pretty ballad, and I like that retro, slow-jam feel, but it's so sad that it hurts.

It does? Like in a bad way?

Yeah, it's pretty depressing.

But look at my past songs, like "Heartbreaker" or "Fantasy." You may think those songs were happy little ditties but, truthfully, they were steeped in misery. "We Belong" is sad, but some people really love it and make me play it over and over--like four times. In the beginning it wasn't my favorite, either.

The ballad I love is "Fly Like a Bird." There's so much going on. It has some classic '90s-era Mariah, as well as your new, more urban sound--plus a choir. It's such an uplifting song, and your voice sounds just amazing.

Thank you. Usually, I'll have an introspective bleak-outlook-on-life song. In the past it's been "Petals" or "Close My Eyes." Those were the ones that the hard-core fans related to most. But this has a hopefulness to it. That's why it's one of my favorites, too.

And, lyrically, it lives outside the...

The love world?

And the world of romance in restrooms.

[Laughs] Don't forget the world of mistrusting men eternally.

Twista plays the role of one of those bad men on "One and Only." The song sounds good, but here's my problem. Lyrically, he's the playa and you're the girl who'll be around no matter how badly he treats you. And I just don't believe it. You're too powerful to take that crap.

Well, I look at it like he's a featured artist, not like we're having a true love affair. It's only a record.

You mean you two are not really a couple?!

Ha! When I wrote the song it was like you said--it was one of those you'll-never-trust-a-man-again. That was the initial vibe. I don't know. Maybe I gotta look at it again. I didn't mean to suggest I'm following Twista all around like a sick puppy.

I can see the tabloids now: The Twisted Relationship of Mariah and Twista.

Of course, darling, I'm in a relationship with everybody.

The playa song here that does work is "Get Your Number," with Jermaine Dupri. It's so over the top--he brags about the "Cris on ice, the Benz." It's like a cartoon, and it's fun. In fact, the only other song I don't like is the ballad "I Wish You Knew." It's so melodramatic, and there's the fake audience in the background. It's cheesy.

I know, but that was the point--to make it really retro and funny, and I even talk to the audience. We just got carried away.

It doesn't work for me.

Well, there are people who like this kind of thing--something to sing at the karaoke bar on that one night a week they get out and wear that special dress.

So is it safe to say this is your first karaoke-inspired track?

If you must put it that way, OK, fine.

So I think we've covered most of the album.

At least I didn't have to explain the lyric "Them chickens is ash and I'm lotion."

Aha! I forgot to ask you for a translation.

And I almost escaped without explaining. Can we leave it up to the reader to see if they know what it is?


See, I did it as an empowering thing, so the girls could know they're hot, or pip, or whatever. See, they're not the chickens, they're the lotion. [Laughs] Never mind.

You realize you're going to have to include a decoder ring with this album.

I totally am. [Sighs] It's just one more thing I have to remember to do.

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