I’m on my fourth ish Mariah Carey album. And, with listening to her actual albums, I’ve come to believe she may be the most technically gifted female vocalist in pop or R&B. (I might go even further than that.) With every album of hers I listen to, I become more and more convinced that she possesses one of the great instruments in 20th century popular music. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that Carey makes music I don’t particularly like. It’s poppy soul, sometimes it veers into dance territory (though not really on this record) and the ballads can be particularly guilty of having zero edge.
The idea of “Fantasy” is certainly one of the more interesting ones she’s ever had. Though it’s definitely very common in hip hop to interpolate, I don’t know what Carey had done anything like this before. I suspect it counts as significant artistic growth. (And there’s an Adrian Belew writing credit on a Mariah Carey record! The world is a very weird place.)
But much of the rest of the record is typical Carey, particularly the ballads which lack the vague hip hop feel of some of the upbeat tracks, and which really fail to make any kind of impression on me. That Boys II Men track I remember from the radio but would I really remember it now? “Sacrilege, Riley!” But I’m serious. It’s better than the other ballads but this stuff hasn’t aged well. I remain impressed that Carey is both an absolutely incredible singer and a songwriter, but I remain pretty underwhelmed by the songwriting.
But the bigger problem remains the arrangements: super slick and, with the exception of the Boys II Men track, drowning in overdubs of her voice. (That track has them but maybe not to the extent of her solo tracks.) Imagine if she just sang a song, with drums, bass and a melody instrument, and that was it. And maybe do it in one take. Can you imagine what that might sound like? I’d like to try, but everything of hers I ever listen to is arranged and produced to hell. I suspect I’d like this better without the ’90s R&B cliches.
But her voice is incredible and she can use it. And it’s hard to get too mad about it.