Mariah Carey

Columbia Records, 1999




Rainbow is the first Mariah Carey album that fans can admit they like, in public.

Fans for years have glimpsed that "Mariah Myth" brilliance under her live performances and unreleased tracks or b-sides like "Close My Eyes" and "Slipping Away", but whether it was lack of confidence or record label intervention, she has never indulged her audience with it. In 1998 her "most personal" but holistically flat Butterfly came and went, and Carey seemed interminably MOR.

All of this makes Rainbow feel like a promise fullfilled. The first single "Heartbreaker" doesn't give a lot of clues to the album's level, aside from its mature, fleshed out production that contrasts with her earlier efforts, which tend to teter on austere to bland. She's ditched long time collaborator Walter Afanasieff, hooked up with the incomparable production team at Flyte Time ( my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Velvet Rope, How Stella Got Her Groove Back soundtrack, etc.) and the improvement is immediate at first listening; there's more to listen to, for one. The songwriting is also definitely stronger with elements of irony and introspection in songs like "Did I Do That?" and "Petals".

The ballads are still there, including a Phil Collins cover no less of "Against All Odds" and a "Hero"-esque "Mariah's Theme" titled "Can't Take That Away". They're solid tracks that sound more like high caliber Disney releases than made-for-radio songs like "My All". The duet with 98 Degrees "Thank God I Found You" is a letdown that lacks the magic Carey has had with Boyz II Men. Another no-chemistry let down is the David Foster-Diane Warren track "After Tonight", and the conclusion to draw here is that Mariah should stick to what she does best: pop/hip-hop fusion.

A song that has a verse where the narrator is trying to forget bad memories of someone by turning on the radio, only to cry to hear a song she had written during that relationship's peak, would seem a stretch for anyone but Carey. "Crybaby" aside, her ironic humor is featured further on in "Did I Do That?" (with its shifting vocal arrangement bringing power to a useful narrative on lust and illusion) and "X-Girlfriend", where she takes on an older sisterly perspective in admonishing an incessant former lover of her boyfriend's.

"How Much" featuring Usher is a tad less uninspired compared to the rest but it's the only filler in the entire album. The sultry retro R&B track "Bliss" guarantees to crack glass but it's more than mellow vocal ecstacy, it's the ultimate combination of great R&B songwriting, Carey's gospel/blues/jazz/pop synthesis-vocals and the meticulous creativity of Flyte Time, a combination that can only be found here.

Despite this, the best track on the album is a ballad. "Petals" goes into undermined autobiography where Carey reveals more than she probably intends. This poetic frankness and melodic simplicity create the most intense moment of her career, a level of artistic purification where few pop artists (or their record labels) dare attempt.

The "Mariah Myth" still has a few steps to go before being fully justified. But with every album, the wait seems more of a privilege.

Rating: A

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© 1997 JB and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.