Mariah Carey burned by spotlight
Carey's July 25 hospitalization (she was released Wednesday) for psychiatric treatment came at a time when the 31-year-old singer was launching a semi-autobiographical film, issuing her first recordings for a new label and suffering the first major downturn in her singing career. Her latest single, "Loverboy", featuring a tired sample of Cameo's 1986 hit "Candy", had been languishing in the middle regions of Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart until retailers started "deep-discounting" the CD single, making it available for as little as 49 cents. After the discount, "Loverboy" skyrocketed to No. 2.
The weeks preceding the hospitalization were rife with stories of bizarre behavior, including flaky appearances on MTV and at a suburban New York promotional stop. But there was a time when Carey was known for her five-octave range instead of whom she was dating, what samples she was using or for wearing a sports bra while passing out popsicles on "TRL".
In 1990, when the 20-year-old ingenue released her first single, the torch-pop hit "Vision of Love", it was clear she was a star in the making. I recall hearing her debut album at the time and being impressed with her voice but also thinking that the disc would have been far better with a stripped-down mix - piano, bass and drums. However, the production by Narada Michael Walden and Walter Afanasieff indicated that Carey's record company, Columbia, intended her to be its answer to Arista's Whitney Houston. Despite the super-slick production of its period, "Vision of Love" showed undeniable promise.
Like Houston, whose best single was her first, 1985's "You Give Good Love," Carey peaked early. She rushed a second album, "Emotions", into stores one year after her debut, and the album was inferior in nearly every way. Hooking up with Robert Clivilles and David Cole of C+C Music Factory for the title track, which pilfered its bass line from both Cheryl Lynn's "Got to Be Real" and "Best of My Love" by, ahem, the Emotions, was an indication that Carey would ride the waves of pop culture instead of defining it. Not only did the album lack the spark of originality, but Carey had developed an annoying vocal habit of whispering her way through ballads such as "Can't Let Go".
Song selection suffered with each successive release. On 1993's "Music Box" and 1995's "Daydream", Carey recorded unnecessary covers of Badfinger's "Without You" and Journey's "Open Arms", respectively. When she wasn't nicking musical motifs from the Tom Tom Club (for "Fantasy"), she was falling back on treacly ballads.
During the breakup with her husband, Sony Music Chairman Tommy Mottola, Carey explored her love of hip-hop on 1997's "Butterfly". The album's first single, "Honey", was a Sean "P. Diddy" Combs production that, upon its initial release, failed to give songwriting credit for a keyboard riff stolen from "Hey DJ" by the World Famous Supreme Team.
Flaunting capped teeth, a love of Cristal champagne and body by Dow Corning, Carey fully adopted the "Big Willie" style while showing no style of her own. Her first post-divorce single, "Heartbreaker", again utilized samples from the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love", and the cover art for the "Rainbow" album presented Carey looking like a bikini-clad extra from a Ludacris video.
Carey's new album for Virgin Records, "Glitter", is more of the same, which might be why her single was failing before being artificially boosted by deep discounts. She has reached the exact apogee of what her original fans liked about her music, having moved so far away from expectations that her followers must be swayed with singles priced the same as Diet Coke cans to hear even the tiniest vestige of her long-buried talent.
Instead of the hospitalization becoming simply a "Behind the Music" moment, Carey should follow the sage advice offered by MTV's Carson Daly in Entertainment Weekly: "It's always good to file a mental Chapter 11 and reorganize." Rather than continue to create tepid pseudo hip-hop for mall rats, Carey could get back to basics and record some standards - songs that require a good voice to make them work. She could be a Cassandra Wilson or Diana Krall, wrapping her considerable chops around classics and imbuing them with new interpretations. Or, she could simply use her recent experiences to write straightforward, meaningful songs. With her considerable commercial clout, no one would dare say "no".
Many thanks to Elin from Mariah Online.
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