Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Embodiment Of Many Of My High School And College Nightmares On One Disc!

The Good: Moments of decent voice, Generally uplifting message
The Bad: Many terrible lyrics, "Music" sound is pure pop, Remixed versions of several hits
The Basics: Remember the '90s? Remember having your eardrums ruptured by the ultrasonic sounds of Mariah Carey? No? This album will bring you right back there. Sorry.

As I continue to age, I have mellowed some on certain artists that I was not into when they were in their prime or even come to enjoy songs by artists who used to annoy me. So, for example, in high school while many of my peers were listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, I was happily listening to Sophie B. Hawkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and when I did encounter Nirvana, I thought it was mostly just noise and unpleasantness. A few years back, I saw a music video of a cover of "Come As You Are" where an Elvis impersonator sang the lines surrounded by models and it was pretty well brilliant. After that, I would hear a Nirvana song and most of them I could listen to (I still can only listen to "Smells Like Nirvana" as opposed to the original Nirvana hit) without flipping the channel. In college, I worked at a night cafe where the dial was almost always stuck on a local pop-rock channel and Alanis Morrisette and Mariah Carey became my nemesi. In the last few years, Morrisette has worn me down and I find I like a lot of her stuff. When I found myself absently humming "Always Be My Baby" the other day, I asked myself if maybe I was ready to let Mariah Carey off the mat. That is when I gave #1’s by Mariah Carey a spin.

The answer, if you're looking to cut through the fat to the meat on the bones here is "no." I still loathe Mariah Carey. #1’s embodies all of the reasons why, prior to her reinvention more under the hip-hop/pop genre on the "Mimi" album, Mariah Carey's celebrity is as loathsome as it was lucky.

First, the positive, because I'm on a time limit and I suspect that I could write much about Mariah Carey that is unflattering (the artist, not the person). Actually, as a side note, Mariah Carey - the human being - seems to be an immensely nice person. I saw an interview with her done by Wayne Brady where she spoke about her depression and her feeling of pressure for people to like her. Brady tried to reassure her by quoting the numbers of albums Carey had sold and said, "I think you can relax, we like you." Carey was humble and nervous and blushing and my heart went out to her. I wished for the best for her.

Then she started singing again. Sigh.

I was introduced to the talen of Mariah Carey with "Someday," a pure pop song that established indelibly two things: 1. Mariah Carey is able to perform when provided with pretty much any generic background music and a set of lyrics in a manner that sounds a lot like Janet Jackson and 2. If you ever want to scare - or attract, we're not quite sure yet - bats, put on a Mariah Carey album. The woman's trademark sound is shrieking at pitches that make dogs bark and set off car alarms. When she makes these noises is often random, though they frequently come at the end of her songs.

Anyone who had a radio on in the 1990s will find almost all of the seventeen tracks instantly recognizable. They are the unpleasant soundtrack of mainstream pop radio of the 1990s. I say "almost" for two reasons. The first is that some of the tracks on #1’s are not the pop radio versions that were popularized and hit #1 on the charts. For example, "Fantasy" hit number one before the remix with O.D.B. was presented and a good number of pop-rock stations refused to play the remix.

Writing that line makes me curious about something. It could well be that Mariah Carey is a pioneer in the field of my pet peeves. Musical artists can do two easy things to annoy me. The first is present songs that are self promotion or self congratulatory. The O.D.B. rap on "Fantasy" where he references Mariah Carey repeatedly is an example of this. This paved the way for such annoyances to the ear as Eminem whose most popular tracks are simply him singing about himself singing. Some of the songs on #1’s exhibit this trait, so it's possible Carey helped pioneer that annoyance.

The other peeve of mine is the use of constant duets on albums. Pick up almost any rap or hip hop album - and an increasing number of pop albums these days - and you will discover you are not purchasing the artist you enjoy so much as a sampler of the artist you enjoy with guest shots from all of their neighbors on the same label. I like the Outkast songs I hear on the radio, I don't like the Jay-Z songs I hear, why would I want the Outkast album featuring tracks with Jay-Z?! This is something I will credit Mariah Carey for helping to popularize or at least using it more effectively than any other mainstream artist in the '90s. Tracks on #1’s "feature" Trey Lorenz (whatever happened to Trey?!), O.D.B., and JD (did "Sweetheart" actually ever hit #1?!). The "featuring" tracks are different from the duets in that they lack an even balance of power. So, for example, on "Sweetheart" Carey is supporting the rap from JD and it does not even sound like one of her tracks. Often the "featuring" tracks are remixes, like the version of "Fantasy" that appears on this album.

This album also contains the three popular duets Carey did as her star was rising. She appears with Whitney Houston for a Disney song and with Brian McKnight that pretty much helped her corner the respect of the soul and adult contemporary ends of the pop spectrum that her prior singles may have failed to capitalize on.

#1’s also contains the insipid duet between Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men that was such an obvious ploy for money that it is still sickening to listen to. You have two of the highest grossing musical artists of the time singing to one another a song about lost loved ones, wow. It's like the record execs have a Machiavellian working for them. But now that I have a format, I'd like to say what has long truly disgusted me about "One Sweet Day." This sappy dreck croons over lost loved ones who have died and it was presented at a time when both Mariah Carey, who had no personal entanglements at the time that were tabloid-worthy, and the crisp, clean Boyz II Men were popular, financially successful and basically at the top of their games. And line they croon out is "I know you're shining down on me from heaven / Like so many friends we've lost along the way . . ." Now, unless I missed the Great Pop Assassinations of '95 or some huge movement that connected Carey and the Boyz prior to the duet, I'm at a loss for who these friends are. Unless the execs were trying to create the Funeral Song of the Year (much like every year there's a Graduation Song the execs trot out - there's still a special place in Hell reserved for Baz Lurhman for that sunscreen song!), this is just pure garbage designed to generate massive bucks. And it worked at the time.

So, between the duets, the "featuring," and the overplayed, simplistic lyrics and sound, there's not a lot to enjoy on #1’s. I probably would have rated the album a 2, but for opening with "Sweetheart" which is a terrible representation of Carey as the diva she is. And despite my criticisms of Carey's work, what she did have - outside legions of fans, truckloads of money and a body that understandably made her one of the most photographed women of the '90s - was a generally positive message. "Emotions," "I'll Be There," and especially "Hero," for all of their sappiness, actually have the intent to comfort and uplift and that's pretty cool. Too bad they are drown out on this collection by JD and O.D.B. and the overwhelming sense of injustice at having to pay money for an album that has "One Sweet Day" on it.

For a change, I cannot honestly pick a track I'd say was the best track, so why don't we just go with "Someday" and the worst of the bunch is "Sweetheart."

For other pop compilations, be sure to check out my reviews of:
No Word From Tom - Hem
The Collection - Alanis Morissette
Tales Of A Librarian: A Tori Amos Collection - Tori Amos


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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