Both the album and the memoir offer a few surprises, and a glimpse into one of the preeminent pop divas of all time.
Like most of Mariah Carey’s product, I sampled her latest album, the double disc The Rarities, trepidatiously. The project includes 15 tracks that were recorded for a variety of albums that the superstar has released over the last 30 years. For reasons we may never know, Carey had left the songs on the cutting room floor.
Producer David Foster once told me that when songs are left off of an album, there’s always a reason, and that most often there’s not much new or revelatory to be found in the figurative trash bin. Overall, that’s true of The Rarities. However, since Carey’s recorded catalog is so exceptional, the legend has released outtakes that are better executed than the tunes found on most new albums these days.
The first of The Rarities’ discs includes a few standouts, including “Can You Hear Me,” “Do You Think Of Me,” and “Everything Fades Away. They stand up to Carey classics from yore. The latter song features a step-out vocal and hook on the bridge that has haunted me for days.
Another stunner is Carey’s version of Irene Cara’s 1980 vocal triumph, “Out Here On My Own” from the Fame soundtrack. It’ll leave you scratching your head about why the cover is just now seeing the light of day, as she recorded it almost 20 years ago. Like Carey’s #1 cover of The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” it’s a reminder that the prolific singer / songwriter wraps her voice around songs that come her way as effortlessly as she does her own compositions.
The Rarities’ first disc has a few missteps, including Carey’s attempt at a jazz, “Lullaby Of Birdland” from 2004. It’’s aptly named: it’s a snoozer. Carey is a formidable pop / soul vocalist, and I give her at A for effort, but she’s no Ella Fitzgerald.
The version of “Loverboy” included in the collection, devoid of the classic Cameo sample, falls flat. And confoundedly, Carey’s collaboration with Lauryn Hill, “Save The Day,” falls short of that promise. In fact, Hill’s soulful voice is buried in the mix beneath Carey’s. Evidently, in true diva fashion, Carey was not to be outdone, especially on her own album.
The Rarities’ second disc is more fulfilling, comprised of a seemingly complete concert from 1996, when Carey’s multi octave range, and particularly her stunning whistle register, wasn’t time tarnished. She sounds, simply, incredible, cementing her status as her generation’s premiere female pop vocalist. The live survey of her smashes reminds fans (sorry…her Lambs) of her proficiency as a songwriter.
While Carey probably will never deliver a full-length jazz opus, she could own the gospel genre if she wanted to. Both the recorded “I Pray” from 2005 and the live version of “Anytime You Need A Friend” from the second disc raises the rafters and would have made Mahalia Jackson, The Clark Sisters, or CeCe Winans proud.
At the end of the “Someday” knockoff “Here We Go Around Again,” Carey gives us a glimpse into her creative process with the spoken snippet “The end of that was iffy.” That’s how I felt about her highly anticipated memoir, The Meaning Of Mariah Carey. I won’t spoil the ending, but it, like her jazz foray, left me wanting more.
Like The Rarities album, the memoir includes several juicy tidbits. Suffice it to say that Carey’s biological family is a cast of characters, and she’s had some really, really good therapists.
Carey shares several details of a truly tumultuous upbringing and first marriage, to her boss at Sony Music. In doing so, she’s crafted a survivor narrative that is effective in bringing her Lambs ever closer to her. She also weaves lyrics to several of her songs into her prose, revealing to even diehard fans that this sparrow’s secrets have been there for all to see, all along,
Like The Rarities album, The Meaning Of Mariah Carey has a few blemishes. Carey’s book would be stronger if someone had fact checked some of her recollections. For example, for a woman who proclaims such adoration for Aretha Franklin, Carey should have known that Franklin’s debut album wasn’t 1967’s I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You. The Queen of Soul had been recording and releasing albums for half a dozen years at that point, ironically for Columbia Records, where Carey began her career.
And I wish that the self-described “Elusive Chanteuse” had devoted a little more of the memoir’s real estate to discussing some of her projects that get very short shrift in the new book, like Unplugged or Merry Christmas, and a little less time talking about hair.
Yes, hair. Her own and Diana Ross’s. According to Carey’s book, she’s been chasing The Boss’s gloriously unruly mane for years.
Ah, well. Such is the life of a diva. Carey will probably never be Maya Angelou, either, so I’ll stop nitpicking the book and get back to what she does better than most.
As I listened to the second live disc of The Rarities, I found myself wishing I’d been reviewing her album closer to the holiday season, as I had to fend off a longing to hear Carey’s impossibly infectious “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” She delivered it as an encore during the concert, and I found myself warbling that Christmas chestnut, belting it out at the very top of a range that pales compared to Carey’s, during a sunny, warm October walk in California.
I tried. God knows I did. But Carey won me over, just as she has her millions of fans all over the world, over the last three decades.
Pick up a copy of The Rarities and The Meaning Of Mariah Carey, but in doing so, consider a word of caution: you just may be a bigger fan of Carey’s when you’re done with the book and album than you were when you start them. In fact, you may start considering yourself a Lamb.
I now do.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Now, back to the music! “I don’t want a lot for Christmas / There is just one thing I need…”