Street Sounds: Mariah goes to infinity and beyond

Mariah Carey’s third installment of hits, #1 to Infinity, is a saccharine mystery of vocal virtuosity and melodramatic songwriting.

Perennial R&B/pop superstar Mariah Carey’s third installment of hits, #1 to Infinity, is a saccharine mystery of vocal virtuosity and melodramatic songwriting.

The mystery is confounding. Carey is a talented, famous singer/songwriter, but who listens to her? In real life?

She’s like Celine Dion, super successful and acclaimed, but do you know any fans? The singers don’t permeate everyday life, as if the sound won’t gel with air.

Carey’s lack of passionate material is a problem here. It’s hard to get a fire going with songs that are bland, production wise. It’s telling that when she keeps things basic, she connects. Her version of I’ll Be There is a beautiful performance that can top the original, depending on your mood. It could be the definitive version of the song.

Dreamlover is a gem of ‘90s soul, slick as it is. Another track from this early stage in Carey’s career, Someday, an unplugged MTV performance from 1991, moves with an old R&B-based churchy sway.

Of course, Hero makes an appearance – the ballad to end all ballads. Unfortunately, it’s been co-opted as a standard for Idol-type competition. She hits a wide range with those few songs – earthy and ethereal.

A nice addition is the Jay-Z collaboration, Heartbreaker. This track is a perfect base for Carey’s vocalizations – a funky Cyndi Lauper-type tune minus Lauper’s Betty Boop sounds. Carey coasts over this one easily.

With 19 songs, weak material can’t be covered up. Carey dazzles with her pitch perfect multi-octave voice (like the singer in The Fifth Element), but often defaults into over-singing. The music becomes remote, but it could be breached by simplicity.

It’s time to testify, Mariah!

Reviewer Dean Gordon-Smith writes about new music releases for The Morning Star Fridays.