Album review: Mariah Carey - Glitter

Album review: Mariah Carey - Glitter | Random J Pop

On the eve of the release of Mariah's 15th studio album, Glitter had soared to the top of the US iTunes chart. Mariah Carey's powers grow powerful on the run up to Christmas, which is also when the gay coven grow equally powerful. The album that was commercially mauled and killed Mariah's streak of chart success, topping charts 17 years after its release, would be seen to some as justice for an album that got more flak than it actually deserved.

But whilst fans have always had a soft spot for Glitter, its the one album that Mariah pays absolute dust to. It's understandable as to why, given that the album represents one of the lowest points in her professional and personal life. Mariah's 3 year romance with Latin American superstar Luis Miguel had come to an end. Her relationship with her ex-husband got so bad that it forced her off of the record label she'd been at since the start of her career, which also led to issues for "Loverboy". And the film of the same name that Glitter was the soundtrack to made Mariah a laughing stock. Then there was 9/11. The soundtrack released on the same damn day, with the film releasing two weeks later. So it's really no wonder that Mariah acts like this part of her career never really happened. But fans do as fans feel they must and refuse to let this album go. And that's fair. The Glitter album wasn't the shit-storm it was unfortunate enough to get caught up in, and features some great songs.

Mariah loves the 80s. She's sampled many a hit from this era for several of her chart topping singles. Tom Tom Club's "Genius of love" for "Fantasy". "Hey DJ" by the The world's famous supreme team and "The body rock" by The treacherous three for "Honey". Stacie Lattisaw's "Attack of the name game" for "Heartbreaker". So it comes as little surprise that Mariah would opt to do an album in homage to this era in music.

Glitter was notable for being Mariah's first release on Virgin records following her exit from Columbia. You'd think given Mariah's emancipation before THE emancipation, that Glitter would have seen Mariah being a bit more radical with her approach. But this wasn't the case. And of all the things I could criticise this album for, this is one of them. With her newfound freedom and full creative control over her music, Mariah didn't do a great deal with it. She kinda just did more of the same. In some cases, less. Which made me wonder what exactly type of restraints she felt Sony was placing on her, when she essentially gave us the same type of album she would have put out if she'd still been signed to them. Maybe this new found 'freedom' was her putting a Hip-Hop guest feature on every track, because that's literally what she did for Glitter. This album being top loaded with guest features is another one of Glitter's problems.

Album review: Mariah Carey - Glitter | Random J Pop

Mariah has always been a gracious artist when it comes guest features. She seems more than happy for her featuring artists to just do what they do on her songs. She seems wholly unconcerned about being overshadowed, because she's Mariah fucking Carey. Mariah being so comfortable with letting artists take over her songs is admirable for an artist who many drag for being all about herself. It shows self confidence and belief in her own currency. But it gets in the way of so many of the songs here. Mariah's cover of "Last night a DJ saved my life" features Busta Rhymes, Fabulous and DJ Clue. Fabulous fits this song like a glove. His lazy, yet sharp flow goes perfectly with the seductive groove of the track and the manner in which Mariah sings the song. You can literally picture her lying on a chaise lounge in a studio with low lighting, her Gucci shades on and the microphone stand dismantled to go low enough for her, because 'Sweetie, I ain't standing up or sitting on no stool at this hour'. Busta's hype-man antics on the song help keep the Hip-Hop edge throughout, which works to a point because Busta is charismatic; but it can sometimes be overbearing. And with DJ Clue's signature incessant shouting going off at the same time, its overkill. Its like listening to your favourite song on the radio be ruined by the DJ announcing all over the top of it. "Don't stop (Funkin' 4 Jamaica)" is literally Mystikal featuring Mariah Carey. Eric Benét pops up for "Want you", but it sounds like song with lots of moving parts, but no real alignment. I also feel that Joe would have been a much better fit for this than Eric Benét. Or if she wanted to throw it right back, she should have gone with an OG singer like Alexander O'Neal for some gruff and grit. "If we" features the man of the then moment that was Ja Rule. But nothing about this song feels exclusive to Mariah. Put Christina Milian or Ashanti on the track and it'd be no worse off. To Mariah's credit, with the exception of that trash with Eric Benét, there is a sense of chemistry and togetherness on each song that has a feature, and everybody turns in something great. Da Brat absolutely murders her verse on "Loverboy". Mystikal and Busta bring great energy to their contributions. And Fabulous' chill vibe sets off "Last night a DJ saved my life" before Mariah even starts singing.

But even in and around great performances from other artists, all of the guest feature songs just don't feel well structured or organised. Somebody seemed to have forgotten that there needed to be strong hooks, strong verses and a general punch to each song which isn't hinging on the fact that it features a rapper. The whole 'we're just jammin' it out in the studio' vibes of the songs are nice and work somewhat in the context of the film. But the lack of focus in making tight songs shows in comparison to the directness of songs like "All my life", "Didn't mean to turn you on", "Lead the way" and "Never too far".

The best moments on Glitter are those when Mariah flies solo. "Didn't mean to turn you on" is one of the best songs on the album and its an interesting one, because it's a cover of a song that the executive producers of the album, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, originally wrote and produced in 1984. Rather than recreate and update the music, they just have Mariah sing over the original instrumental. Some may find it lazy. But bitch, if it ain't broke and it works... *Shrugs*. "Didn't mean to turn you on" also features one of my favourite vocal performances from Mariah. I love when she sings with her full voice and hits every single beat like with pin point accuracy; the latter of which she's only done a handful of times (i.e "Emotions", "Dreamlover", "Make it happen", "X-girlfriend"). A controversial statement amongst purists, but I prefer Mariah's version over Cherrelle's. Sorry gurl. The Rick James penned "All my life" is another album standout. Mariah sings the absolute shit out of it and makes it her own.

Glitter features a couple of ballads, two of which I consider to be two of Mariah's best. Ballads up until this point were something that Mariah was known for and formed the basis of her entire career right the way up until The emancipation of Mimi, when she kinda dialled back on them. Mariah's voice was still in its prime for Glitter, so the ballads showcase it to the fullest. "Never too far" is one of Mariah's best ballads, hands down. It's big, grand and lustrous. Mariah goes from a soft croon to a mammoth belt, holds a note which goes on forever, and ends the whole thing on a near whistle. It's literally like Mariah Carey said to herself, 'I'mma write a song that sounds like it's for a Disney film, but I'mma sing it in such a way that nobody will ever be able to cover it or do it for karaoke'. "Lead the way" is much more subdue in comparison, with Mariah backed only by a piano. As with "Never too far" Mariah's vocals creep up on you, and yet again she brings shit to the table that make it hard for people to replicate. Her run at the 3:11 is plain disrespectful and pretty much Mariah just showing off. It's a brief song. Sparse, simple, but catchy and full of heart. It also marks the only song on the album with her long term collaborator Walter Afanasieff and the last time she'd work with him.

Glitter's shortcomings lie in its lack of succinctness. Despite it having a clear criteria with its time period; many of the songs feel like they're being pulled in lots of different directions. There's a real grey area between original material and covers when it comes to the uptempo's. A third of them are actual covers, where-as the other two-thirds heavily sample and interpolate, but also feature writing credits from Mariah. I get that creating this lack of distinction was the intention here. But I would have liked Mariah to have sought to create more of the uptempo's from scratch with an 80s vibe. She had Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on hand. Two guys who contributed to the music of the 80s with none-other than Janet Jackson and Prince. A complete missed opportunity.

The album is also shockingly short, with only 12 tracks, one of which is a remix. This was standard fare for Mariah albums back then. But the abundance of guest features and half of the songs having the same sound and vibe, cause this album to feel shorter than it is; because for every 2 songs, you feel like you've actually only listened to one. Going with a more standardised 'Music from the motion picture' approach and having there be songs without Mariah on them and bolstering the track list with a couple of extra songs would have been a better look and would have fixed a couple of the issues in regards to the guest features.

Glitter may not always sparkle, but it's not a complete piece of shit neither. There are genuinely great moments on this album. Even it's weakest moments aren't completely awful, and at their worst make for good background music if nothing else. But one of the biggest issues with this album for me which underpins everything is the looseness in its structure and its lack of true focus. The hooks on these songs don't always stick, which not only goes against one of the biggest defining aspects of songs from the 80s, but also Mariah's own M.O. Glitter definitely has its moments. The songs on this which are good are great. And Mariah was privy to bringing the 80s sound back before it became 'a thing' some years after its release. But there's no getting around the fact that Glitter isn't as tight a  package as it could have been. Whilst managing your own shit and revelling in your newfound freedom to do things yourself is admirable, sometimes you need that guiding hand to help steer your shit - the lack thereof which ended up hurting this album and Mariah in the process.


Album highlights:
■ Lead the way
■ Didn't mean to turn you on 🏆
■ Last night a DJ saved my life
■ Never too far