Songbird supreme

Sunday 17 September 2006

Lord knows that Mariah Carey has taken her lumps over the years. There's that nasty business with her ex-husband - former Sony boss Tommy Mottola, whom she divorced (along with Sony Music) in 1998. Cue suspicious run of bad luck and bad timing that hit bottom with the Sept. 11, 2001 album/movie release of Glitter, both of which flopped miserably. There's her reputation for being a "studio rat", a workaholic who labours obsessively to make every note absolutely perfect on record. There's the wacky conspiracy theory that she and her handlers effectively bought their way to the top by flooding the market with cheap or free CD singles.
There are examples of diva behaviour, the spat with Jennifer Lopez, the stories of being hospitalized for stress-related ailments, the time when she was quoted with a straight face that she still believes in Santa Claus ... and the list goes on. One thing remains constant, though: holy frickin' hell, this broad can sing! Never mind J-Lo. Mariah Carey can sing circles around herself. She's that good.
Fans of that God-given set of pipes are sure to attend next Thursday's performance at Rexall Place - marking the first time Mariah Carey has unleashed her moneymaker live in Edmonton. Sometimes it becomes difficult to enjoy the music of an artist when they have a lot of unmusical baggage in the press, as is the case with Michael Jackson or Bono or Paris Hilton.
After I studiously ignored Mariah Carey for several years - even giving a pass to The Emancipation of Mimi, her 2005 comeback triumph, until recently - she was on the Grammy Awards. Her performance was riveting. While being terribly distracted by her fluttering hand that seemed eager to fly off and start its own solo career, I closed my eyes and was blown away by her voice - a wild, high-flying, five-octave freak of nature so pure, and so perfectly on pitch, it had to have been a computer - only it wasn't. In music, a five-octave range is like the three-minute mile. No one has a five-octave range. She's like that blue alien singer in The Fifth Element. Many have copied her style - along with her annoying tics that have become a hallmark of American Idol contestants - but none can compare in vocal ability.
Perhaps it's genetic. Her mom was an opera singer. Named for the wind that calls her name in an old song, young Mariah quickly discovered her destiny, singing at the age of three, writing in junior high school, and made a name for herself in the New York music scene. The poor Long Island girl then got discovered by Tommy Mottola - and the rest of this Cinderella story is history. It's frankly a rather boring story, riddled with one chart-topper and award after another, but it goes on for quite a while. She has been called the best-selling female artist in history. Her trophy shelf is certainly one of the largest.
If there's any cloud in this silver lining of vocal prowess, it's the idea that Mariah is just a big showoff - more concerned with impressing the listener than with expressing emotion. How many syllables can the word "love" have before it starts to lose its meaning? At full throttle this blithering, fluttering, five-octave-spanning songbird obliterates all meaning beyond herself, practically screaming, listen to me sing!
I can remember the Grammy performance vividly, but I honestly can't remember what song Mariah sang. It was probably something from The Emancipation of Mimi. Does this album mark the point at which Mariah Carey's songs have become as important as her voice? Critics doubt it. The album was deemed by the Sun as an "entirely predictable and typical R&B record". Of course, it's predictable and typical only because Mariah Carey was a big part of what made it that way in the first place. In short, the album is no better or worse than any of her previous albums - which is a good thing, given her track record. Mimi was the best-selling record of 2005; and Mariah won three Grammys, though none for best album.
And who is Mimi? She is quoted in her new record company's press release, "I am embracing my independence and celebrating the person that I have become. Over the years I have evolved into a better person and an even better artist. For the first time in my life, I am proud and unafraid to be who I really am, and that's what the music of this album and its title reflects. By naming my album The Emancipation of Mimi and referencing 'Mimi', a nickname only used by those closest to me, I am inviting my fans into my life."
That may be true to a certain extent - she's said in the past that she isn't thrilled with being a public figure - but with that voice, she will always be Mariah to her fans. Besides, They Call the Wind Mimi just doesn't have the same ring to it.

(Edmonton Sun)

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