Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey

Columbia Records, 1990



For those of you still thinking of Mariah Carey being a clone of Whitney Houston, simply compare the quality of their debut albums. Whitney Houston is a vocal showcase of mostly MOR ballads and Prince wannabe dance cuts, ten horrendous songs of low-quality production and nothing new in the vocal technique department. Mariah Carey draws from gospel to rap to even opera in its ambitious attempt to push the young singer-songwriter into international across-the-charts stardom.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Various "moments of brilliance" holds nothing back at what she could do if the spirit (and vocal cords) are willing. The gargantuan gospel number "There's Got To Be A Way" has her confidently singing over the choir in her rousing jazz tradition cultivated from late-night jam sessions with her mother's band. Her screw-you rap in "Prisoner", though misplaced, does everything MC Lyte can do with twice the style. Self-written, self-produced "Vanishing" featuring just backing vocals and piano is her tribute to Aretha Franklin's "Evil Gal Blues" days as well as a soul feat she wouldn't repeat until "The Beautiful Ones" in Butterfly.

Gospel-based "Vision Of Love" is the song most associated with Carey, for which she won a Record of the Year Grammy. It's one of the songs that suffer from the state-of-the-art production ("too shmaltzy", Carey says of her early producers) and a starker, more livelier version is performed in concerts today. She could have written "I Don't Wanna Cry" for Celine Dion, a straight MOR ballad devoid of Carey's jazz approval.

Vocally, Carey is so talented she could sing two notes at the same time. This unsettling phenomena as well as her flagolet ("dog whistle") range drew attention away from her improv skills and sheer control. Ensuing albums saw less and less of her rare vocal diversity, surfacing only in less known cuts like "If It's Over" and "Underneath The Stars".

Seven years later, Mariah Carey has finally stopped hovering over her career; Butterfly is now the Mariah Carey album replacing ambition with sophistication. But even back then, The Ultimate Whitney Clone had long surpassed her calling when "Vision Of Love" launched a voice that delighted fans, ticked critics, and opened a decade to a group of chart-topping '90s women, known as:

The Divas.

Rating: A-

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© 1998 JB and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.