Album review: Mariah Carey - Rainbow

Album review: Mariah Carey - Rainbow | Random J Pop

Mariah's 'Fuck Tommy Mottola' album Butterfly was not only a huge artistic statement which saw Mariah give us the sound and visuals that she had sought to for so many years, but it wound up being one of her best albums. It was also a turning point in her career as an artist who had finally sought much of the control that she had wanted, only to find that she was being made to continually prove herself. But the album that came after, Rainbow, doesn't feel wholly reflective of that.

Recorded for the most part in Capri, where Mariah had exiled herself, and completely enamoured with her new boo thang Luis Miguel, Rainbow on the surface is one of Mariah's lightest and most fun albums. Songs such as "Heartbreaker" matched with its video, saw Mariah once against shift her visual narrative from what people expected and displayed more of her humour. But the problem with this whimsy and light heartedness is that it doesn't make for an album which feels as fun as perhaps Mariah wanted it to be or felt that it was. Because Rainbow isn't all sunshine lollipops and...well, rainbows. It's album where Mariah is caught between wanting to reclaim her inner child and sense of fun, but still not being able to escape the feeling of entrapment and hurt which inspired Butterfly.

Rainbow carries though on the narrative of Butterfly in many ways. It features stories of overcoming storms and enjoying a sense of freedom that she hadn't felt before. But there's a duality to Rainbow that offsets it, that can sometimes throws certain song into a place that I'm not always sure Mariah intended. Or maybe she did. When I listen to "Thank God I Found You" I don't hear a song about finding true love, I hear a song about somebody stuck in a state of depression and self loathing. It's hard for me not to with a line like...

I was all by myself for the longest time, so cold inside
And the hurt from the heartache would not subside, I felt like dying

And Joe's verse being the reassuring talk to bring somebody back from the edge. Sure, the song transforms with its lovely chord change and a joyous hook, but that line 'I felt like dying' never leaves me. Then there's "Crybaby", a song about being so incapacitated by hurt that all you do is spend all day and night crying alone. Even on a song like "Heartbreaker", Mariah is being all cute over Stacie Lattisaw's "Attack of the Name Game", but is singing about going back to somebody who shat on her love and made her feel like shit. For all the rainbows, cute beats and giggles on this album, there's a bleakness to quite of a few of the songs. With "Can't Take That Away From Me (Mariah's Theme)", it's the same deal. It's not Mariah overcoming adversity that I take away from the song, as much as it is Mariah's fight to keep her own light, which we unfortunately saw dim during the release of Glitter. Of course hindsight is 20/20 after the fact. But even when I first heard this song, it just sounded more tragic than joyous. This isn't the case with every song on Rainbow. But it's something that sticks with me in such a way that I find the album title to be more of a mantra for covering up hurt than a declaration of being past it. Maybe this was the whole point. But the album feels like a spraying painting of clouds and colours over cracks, which is what I also feel like a lot of the guest features on this album are.

Rainbow features 7 guest artists across 14 songs. 8 if you include the single version of "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" which featured Irish boyband Westlife. Some of these guest features feel indispensable, whilst others feel disposable. There's no taking Da Brat and Missy Elliott out of the remix of "Heartbreaker". They make the whole damn thing. But Snoop's inclusion on "Crybaby" feels more like an obligatory guest spot for using his song "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)" for the "Heartbreaker" remix as opposed to a necessity. Sure, the song has Snoop West Coast vibes, but he adds nothing to it. Usher teaming up with Mariah on "How Much", a song produced by Jermaine Dupri is no surprise. But Usher's vocals weren't at the point they are now, so he and Mariah don't sound all that great together. This song needed an R&B vocalist with tone and some dexterity. The likes of Joe or Tank would have been much better fits. That said "How Much" is a great song, and absolutely should have been a single. Maybe Luis Miguel was jealous of Usher and didn't want Mariah all up on him in the video and shut that shit down. Who knows!? "Thank God I Found You" really didn't need 98 Degrees. And the post album release of "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" featuring Westlife was an opportunistic play to bag a number 1 hit song in the UK. She probably had no idea who Westlife even were and didn't even want them on the damn song.

Album review: Mariah Carey - Rainbow | Random J Pop

Rainbow is an album that feels at odds with itself. With Butterfly, the intent was really clear with what Mariah sought to do musically and thematically. With Rainbow it's like Mariah wanted to do one thing, but ended up doing a bit of another. Sometimes I'll run Rainbow from top to bottom and I feel like I'm listening to a consolidation of two album concepts. The sense of overcoming something and coming through a dark place into the light is definitely at the core of this album, which is why the sequencing of "Petals", "Rainbow (Interlude)" and "Thank God I Found You" is so damn perfect. But then you have these other songs which whilst good, don't really fit into this narrative, and it feels strange to me and creates this really disjointed listening experience. Mariah was very open that she was going through all sorts of issues with her record label over this album, and that her relationship with them was strained. So maybe this conflict is reflected in how Rainbow turned out.

Then there's the wow factor. Rainbow just doesn't have it. It's the one album where Mariah doesn't really give us anything new that pushes her sound and establishes something about her that we didn't know. With her debut, it was her voice. On Emotions it was her showing us she can do a lil' sumn for the clubs and the gays with "Make It Happen". With Music Box it was Mariah showing that her balladry is no fluke, with a massive fucker of a hit like "Hero", which she wrote. Daydream showed us that she was about that R&B with "Fantasy" and "Always Be My Baby". Then Butterfly came along, and in keeping with the album title and theme, showed us Mariah at her freest, giving us everything she'd given us up until this point in one album, without feeling the need to edit herself or lock parts of herself away as she had been forced to. Then with Rainbow it's...nothing really. At least not in plain sight.

Mariah's voice sounds great. There's an assertiveness that she has vocally, particularly on the R&B cuts, that we only got small doses of on Butterfly. And Mariah's songwriting really shines on songs such as "Crybaby", which feels like like it's cut from the same cloth as Butterfly standout "Breakdown". And "Petals" might be one of the most beautiful and telling songs Mariah has ever written, touching on her fractured relationship with her family and how she saw her marriage. I absolutely adore this song, partly because of how much it reminds me so much of Seal's "Kiss From a Rose". Rainbow might be one of the most Mariah-est of albums in terms of displaying the world play that she's known for, because it's evident on every single song. Who the fuck else has would ever use the word 'despondency' in a song? The songs may not all sit together in the best way, but she wrote the shit out of each of them. Well, except for "Did I Do That?", which is the only song on the album that I flat out do not like and will say is bad.

Album review: Mariah Carey - Rainbow | Random J Pop

With Rainbow being the studio album which would fulfil her recording contract with Sony and allow her to leave a label and the clutches of her husband, maybe she phoned it in and didn't give a fuck. If she did, Mariah's phone-in is still better than some bitches giving their all on their best day. But I wish Mariah had really stuck to a narrative instead of this 'A lil' bit of this, that and this' approach that led to Rainbow becoming what it did. I genuinely wish we'd gotten more of the songs which touched on Mariah's pain, as they're the most compelling songs on the album. But instead we just hop, skip and jump over that and it's like 'OH LOOK, A RAINBOW'. No bitch. Gimme the rain and the storms too.

Rainbow is a cute album for what it is, but it's not the envelope pushing album that I'm used to from Mariah, although it had the potential to have been. The end result is overwhelmingly safe. And given the talents of Mariah as a vocalist and songwriter, and the sheer amount of songwriting and production talent amassed for this album, it should have been a far more exciting album. In place of Walter Afanasieff we've got the legendary duo David Foster and Diane Warren, in addition to fellow legends Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. We've got Jermaine Dupri back in the mix after being absent for Butterfly, with an up and coming Bryan-Michael Cox. DJ Clue who was huge and shouting over everybody's records at the time. And Real Housewife of Atlanta Kandi Burruss and She'kspere, who were two of the most prolific songwriting and production talents of the early noughts, who were shaping US radio with hits like TLC's "No Scrubs" and Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills". And yet...we ended up with an album which feels like a whimper more than the bang it should have been.

Mariah was always going to have a tough time with this album. Not just because it was following an album that many still regard as one of her best, but because of the point that Mariah was at in her career, and the image she'd built for herself as being the paragon of all things good cute, nice and scented like sugar and spice. There was still so much hurt being experienced in her life, but rather than channel it all into music, we got a projection of where Mariah wanted us to see her as opposed to a look at where she was.

Of course, Mariah's traumas aren't ours to see until she sees decides, and there's always been a veil that Mariah's put between the persona we see and the totality of her personal life. But I wish there was just a bit more honesty and consistency in this album, and that Mariah truly chronicled her journey down the yellow brick road that led her to find her place somewhere over the rainbow.


■ Heartbreaker
■ How Much
■ X-Girlfriend
■ Petals 🏆 J's fave
■ Rainbow (Interlude)
■ Thank God I Found You