Last month, Mariah Carey was cruelly denied the Christmas Number One yet again. In 1994, “All I Want for Christmas is You” was kept off the top spot by East 17’s “Stay Another Day”; in 2021 it actually reached number one the week before Christmas but was then bumped into second place by Ladbaby, whoever the hell they are. Hang in there, Mariah. You’ll do it one day. Until then, let’s set aside the best Christmas song ever recorded to spend some time with Music Box, Mariah’s third studio album, released in 1993.
I don’t think I need to introduce Mariah Carey. She’s one of the best selling female artists of all time, has a net worth in the vicinity of half a billion dollars, arguably influenced most of the vocalists you hear in the charts and every single person who has ever appeared on a TV talent show, and still retains such an air of mystery that Wikipedia doesn’t know what year she was born in.
Music Box is why we’re here, though, and it’s a slice of early 90s R&B soul pop, if that’s a genre. There are big synthy 90s beats, lots of oohs and aahs, lots of extraordinarily high pitched singing, and layer upon layer of gospel choir wherever you turn.
Let’s see how it breaks down.
|Track||Word 1||Word 2||Word 3||Word 4|
|3. Anytime You Need a Friend||Uplifting||gospel||with||screaming|
|4. Music Box||Sad||but||surprisingly||twinkly|
|5. Now That I Know||Unexpectedly||jiggy||with||clarinet|
|6. Never Forget You||Like||Boyz||II||Men|
|7. Without You||Better||than||the||original|
|8. Just to Hold You Once Again||Breathy||sadness||with||choir|
|9. I’ve Been Thinking About You||Straight||back||to||1989|
|10. All I’ve Ever Wanted||Another||breathy||slow||one|
|11. Everything Fades Away (Bonustrack)||Even||slower.||End||please|
In some ways – to a person who, for example, doesn’t listen to a lot of this music and has a very unsophisticated take on it – this album sounds quite similar to last month’s Four Word Review, The Colour of My Love by Celine Dion. It’s certainly very ballady and very vocally complex and quite mushy in places. The difference is that Mariah Carey got herself a much better crew, and this album, by comparison, is really nicely arranged and produced. I found myself enjoying the layers of band, orchestra, choir and Carey. You don’t have to be into it to appreciate a well-made thing when one comes along.
This being Mariah, all the songs use her trademark vocal style, which I summarised in my notes as “all the notes, all the time”. So many notes. It’s impressive but also sort of exhausting.
Most of the songs sound the way you expect – you know “Hero”, of course, and “Dreamlover”, and “Without You”. Quite a few of the others are like that: big love ballads with soaring vocals and crashing dramatic choruses. You know the thing. Others are a bit of a surprise. Track 9 was a bit like a Paula Abdul song from the late 80s and sounded a bit weird in the midst of an album whose sound has generally dated quite well.
In conclusion, then, it’s not an album I’ll be listening to again, but it goes into the relatively small group of Four Word Reviews albums that I genuinely didn’t mind. That, I suppose, is the power of something that’s done well. I don’t have to like it but I’d be a tool to pretend it was rubbish. It’s not rubbish, and I’m not a tool. Stop calling me that.
My favourite thing about this album was, without a doubt, loudly singing Ken Lee when “Without You” came on. My least favourite thing was Mariah Carey’s tendency to run two words together into one – dreamlover, anytime, bonustrack. I wonder why the album wasn’t called “Musicbox”.