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Main Category: Dance Pop
Also applicable: Lush Pop
Starting Period: From Grunge To The Present Day
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Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Mariah Carey fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Mariah Carey fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1990
Overall rating =

Great voice, so-so songs, abysmal arrangements, you can't get it all, you know.


Track listing: 1) Vision Of Love; 2) There's Got To Be A Way; 3) I Don't Wanna Cry; 4) Someday; 5) Vanishing; 6) All In Your Mind; 7) Alone In Love; 8) You Need Me; 9) Sent From Up Above; 10) Prisoner; 11) Love Takes Time.

She writes the songs. Is that a plus? It is. (More exactly, it's a surprise - considering that the few Carey interviews I've seen/read, to put it mildly, do not boast an intellectual level far above Britney Spears, and neither, of course, do the actual lyrics to the songs). But then it's fully dis-compensated by the fact that she gives her songs away to corporate producers, mixers, and sound engineers whose main goal is to convert "songs" to "material", and "material" to "formula". (One of the legends has it that 'Vision Of Love' actually started out as a lush Fifties-style ballad, only to be later transmutated into generic Nineties adult contemporary). It doesn't help matters much that few of the songs are well-written: everybody, your musically illiterate humble servant included, can compose pop songs, but it takes a little more than merely an independent character to make these songs good. Therefore, let us not get into the discussion about whether Mariah Carey's compositions are "art" - let's just take my word for it that they range from mediocre to shitty art, and leave it at that.:)

So much for songwriting. Now then, if you also wanna judge this debut record on the basis of such flimsy criteria as 'originality', 'production technique', 'melodicity', etc., you might as well judge the Ramones by how well they would fit inside a symphony orchestra. The ONLY thing of note here, as in about ninety percent of Mariah's total output, is the singing. And the singing, actually, is jaw-dropping; I'd be hard pressed to indicate an album where Mariah would demonstrate her vocal talents on a wider scale, or where she'd sound more involved in the whole process. Well, after all, this was her debut; if you're in adult contemporary business and you don't wanna screw up, you have to give it your all. It's not like you're the only one wanting to become a "diva".

I actually think that, for a "diva" album, this one pretty much beats all competition. Whitney Houston might have more power in her voice overall (which is to be quite naturally expected from an African American), but in terms of range and phenomenal vocal tricks to be played, this set of songs can't be beat. Of course, attraction number one are the famous ultrahigh notes - the "fifth octave", which a few other female singers might possess, but I've never actually heard any of them explore all the notes in that octave. Mariah - on occasion - does exactly that; listen to the mind-blowing coda to 'All In Your Mind' to know what I mean. One can (and probably will, and I won't really mind) pour all kinds of shit on this kind of music, but you gotta bow down to these capacities. That's SOME singing out there, and then in a single second she can go back to the lower ranges and then come up again.

The songs themselves, as befits the formula, are more or less equally divided into ballads (both "power" ones and "soft" ones) and dance-pop numbers, but it's not like the difference is principal; very often, the 'vocal climaxes' look pretty similar on both types. Perhaps the dance-pop stuff is instrumentally more annoying - at least all the obligatory synthesizers stay in the predictable background during ballad time, instead of leaping out and trying to trap you in their simplistic dance groove - and occasionally dumb beyond measure, especially when on a song like 'Prisoner' Mariah starts rapping in a couple of spots (calling the stale, but effective Ramones analogies back again, having Mariah Carey rapping serves pretty much the same goals as having the Ramones do a twenty-minute prog epic), but essentially these kinds of discussion just bring the art of nitpicking onto a higher level, one where you actually start sorting out the nits by their species, with the aid of a microscope and entomology textbooks, and when I'm ready for that art, I wouldn't want Mariah Carey to be the first object of it.

'Vision Of Love' is still probably the best song on here, and it really sounds like it was first written as a doo-wop number. The song might actually be all the Mariah Carey you'll ever need to hear - with her trademark crescendos, witty overdubs of two or three Mariahs cooing at the same time, and earth-shaking vibratos to top the song off. Individually all of her positive aspects, however, shine better on other compositions. She is being much more powerful and quasi-masculine, for instance, on the anti-cruel-society/ pro-peace dancey rant 'There's Got To Be A Way', in every other aspect an embarrassing waste of tape; does she write these nauseating lyrics, I wonder, or is it her army of collaborators? And what is the main logic behind the process - 'hey, let's throw one of 'em social numbers for good measure, critics love it when artists care about the poor and the hungry'? Considering all the Teddy-bear-hugging in Mariah's luxurious villas that we get to experience through MTV's glorification of the superstar lifestyle, somehow I don't think that saving hungry children from death is among the diva's top priorities, but hey, perhaps it's her agents who take care of these things.

Likewise, she's much more emotional on 'I Don't Wanna Cry', even if I remember absolutely nothing about the song. And, surprise surprise, she's actually moderately catchy on 'Someday' - God knows I normally get a lobotomy wish when listening to songs like these, but the powerhouse singing manages to redeem even this experience, much like Ronnie James Dio's powerhouse singing can sometimes redeem even the cheesiest Rainbow or Sabbath number, and there's an actual playful hook jammed in there, reminding of Madonna's early style. Although I guess the best moment in the song comes in the very last few seconds, when she takes these ultrahigh notes for the first time ("somedAAAAAAAy!").

Wait, actually, there's one song on here where the production doesn't get irritating - for the soulful ballad 'Vanishing' they had the good taste to just leave Mariah alone with a piano (some faux-gospel backing vocals were overdubbed later, to good effect as well). Not that it's a particularly original gimmick or anything, but in this case it works, as you get to enjoy the dynamics without any unpleasant distractions in sight, and there's an enjoyable authenticity flavour here; you can almost feel all the Carole King and Christine McVie influence that Mariah must have grown up with in the Seventies. Not so with 'Love Takes Time', where the dynamics are just as great but the arrangement sucks. And absolutely not so with the album's lone "hard rock-influenced" track, 'You Need Me', which establishes a tolerable funk groove but sees fit to vary it with dorky hair metal guitar parts in the best traditions of the late Eighties (don't forget that Mariah actually managed to become a superstar in pre-Nirvana times - yes, ladies and gentlemen, she's that old).

In any case, you might think I'm just wrecking my brain trying to think of good things to say about the record, and in a way, I am - but more because after you've already said "this album is total shit, but the singing is magnificent" it's pretty hard to come up with anything specific than because there's really nothing to say at all. And besides, this record DID somewhat revolutionise the mainstream, even if it did so in a bad way - ushering in the "diva era" in which you no longer had to be black, like Whitney Houston, or outstandingly provocative, like Madonna, to achieve success. You just had to be, um, pretty and "sensitive". Oh, it could also help if you had a fantastic singing talent, but this aspect of Mariah Carey was a bit... downplayed when the demand for divas became too great for them to be able to clone enough talented replicas.



Year Of Release: 1991

Lo and behold, another pile of generic glossy garbage just barely saved from total de-crap-itude by the world's most voicy singer. (Then again, I'm not making any claims here, and besides, you don't even know what I mean by "voicy". Maybe by "voicy" I mean "with a voice like a 100-year old Britney Spears"). Which reminds me of an important question: how sincere is Mariah Carey when she's "voicing" her material? The usual complaint is that nothing about her delivery is really sincere; everything sounds formulaic and basically hit-oriented. But on the other hand, can't it be just so that the way the material is produced and arranged makes that impression on us? In other words, the songs may sound generic, but does that necessarily mean that the person singing them is soulless? After all, if millions of people sincerely enjoy this stuff - and to some, this reaches a cathartic level, I'm sure - why can't it have been recorded with an equally sincere purpose?

So it's a goddamn touchy question, this one. Nevertheless, sincere or no, most of the songs here are bad. Bland, hookless ballads and even cheesier dance-pop than last time around. And, just as in the case with 'Vanishing', there's only one unexpected touch of good taste here, right at the end - the subtle soft jazz of 'The Wind', unspoiled by corny dance beats or cornier 'heavenly' synths (well, okay, there are some synths on here, but they're inobtrusive, and they're imitating strings anyway - unless these are real strings, in which case it's even better!), sounds pretty damn good to my ear, with Mariah's hushy overtone crowning it all. A decent mood piece which would have gone unnoticed on any other album, here it's a friggin' highlight just cuz it's so different.

But when you start looking in other places... ugh. The title track provides the perfect blueprint for Britney Spears, with dumber lyrics than ever (hey, that is one sure sign that not everything Mariah sings is sincere, because I frankly don't believe anybody can be sincere when singing 'you got me feeling emotions deeper than I've ever known, you got me feeling emotions higher than the heaven above!'). 'Make It Happen' sounds like a pisspoor Michael Jackson outtake, and I really don't like it when Mariah tries assuming that "tough girl" image, she's much better with these ballads. Worst of all is 'You're So Cold', which somehow manages to take all the most crass and ridiculously "dance-sugary" elements of the Seventies, dress them in even worse Nineties' production excesses, add vomit-inducing vocal harmonies and present this all in an extremely self-important manner. Ugggh.

On the other hand, the ballads really aren't bad, when it comes to singing, that is. 'And You Don't Remember' has all the crescendo effects in the right place, and there's a really generic, but really powerful Carole King collaboration ('If It's Over') - I'm a-guessin' that Carole King's presence here has a positive effect not so much upon the melody (anybody could have written that melody, it doesn't take one of the best corporate songwriters ever to come up with that slow waltzing tempo) as it has upon the fact that it does sound a little retroish, with a slight gospel flair to it, and that just goes to show you how much better traditional soul/gospel ballads are in comparison with all that adult contemporary crap. And if we're talking white singers here, who's better suited to sing gospel than Mariah Carey? Definitely nobody. And this is coming from somebody who's only listening to this stuff to have "both sides" represented, mind you.

So yeah, I can definitely hold half a thumb up for stuff like 'If It's Over' - problem is, every other ballad on this album is inferior and actually doesn't do anything that 'If It's Over' already hasn't done. In fact, Emotions is an even more formulaic affair than the debut album ever hoped to be, which is maybe why it's such a shock when 'The Wind' comes on even if it ain't anything particularly special. Not to mention that, while the debut had at least a few moderately catchy spots on it, the only "moderately catchy" moment on here is the 'I'm never gonna let you go!' refrain in 'To Be Around You', and it ain't no big deal either. So much for the "she writes her own songs" argument; I'd rather have preferred she'd have Carole King completely take over that job.

Oh! And you know what pisses me off? She hardly ever uses the ultrahigh register on this album! Come on, Mariah, don't be like Eric Clapton, who once decided to deliberately screw his fanbase by cutting down on his scorching lead guitar playing - and did exactly that. The only reason why you are reviewed on this site is that you can hit these high notes and I can't. So why piss me off in such a brutal manner?


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