Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Album Review: Mariah Carey - Daydream (1995, 5/5)

August is always such a droll month. It's usually always the month where nothing interesting happens in music (I'm writing this 15 days before I'm posting this, so please forgive me if something interesting has happened). With no new releases that have yet to interest me, I thought I'd indulge in sudden need for Mariah Carey's music, with her forthcoming album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, pushed back to a September 15 date, it seems we won't be hearing from the songstress for awhile, unless there's a new single on the way--I'll be over "Obsessed" soon. In the meantime, there's no harm in reminiscing through Carey's pretty stunning discography (well, through the '90s anyway).

Carey has released a string of fantastic albums (especially through the period 1993 - 1997). 1993s Music Box, often cited as Carey's masterpiece, partly due to the fact that it's her best selling album worldwide--I thought was an almost flawless album (how can you question the classics "Hero" and "Without You")--I guess I just don't love it as much as everyone else. 1997s Butterfly, was the first "emancipation" where Carey first fully emerged as an up straight R&B artist--showing near little signs of pop presence, collaborating with hip-hop and R&B legends, Bone Thugs N Harmony (which was the result of "Breakdown," among my favorite Mariah tracks ever), Missy Elliot ("Babydoll") Dru Hill ("The Beautiful Ones") Brian McKnight ("Whenever You Call") and the biggest shocker at the time, P.Diddy on the lead single "Honey."

Both great albums, but my favorite Mariah album is, Daydream, arguably Carey's most solid piece of work and among the best albums of all time and whilst some people think it's overrated, I think it's rated just fine. In a commercial prospective, Daydream, is Carey's best selling in the US (10 million) and second worldwide (25 million) second to, Music Box. I'll also add, it's possibly among among the most influential albums in history. Daydream, marked the period Carey began to gain creative control over her music--as previous offerings had been carefully crafted by Ex-Husband, Tommy Mottola--which would explain the notable absence of hip-hop influences in any past albums prior to this point. As the hip-hop genre began to gain popularity by 1994, so did Carey's interest. It's noted that, Daydream, was the first time Carey really got involved in the creative process of an album, ironically, the album became Carey's second album to be nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys and she took home 2 AMA's.

Like the breezy radio friendly opener "Dreamlover" for Music Box, Daydream, opens with "Fantasy" which I think is her strongest lead singles and opener for an album. The song was just as breezy and radio friendly but backed with an heavy R&B kick--thanks to its sampling of the Tom Tom Club's 1982 hit "Genius of Love." It's one of my favorite Mariah singles. "Fantasy" became the second single in Billboard history to debut atop the Hot 100 (second only to Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone"). Much to Carey's record label's dismay, the single was later remixed--dubbed with an even more urban styled bassline--featuring among Carey's most unlikely collaborators, the late, 'Ol Dirty Bastard. Naturally, I've always preferred the original to the remix, but I''ve always liked the repetition of the 'question and response' lyric in the middle: ("Q: Whatcha gonna do when you get outta jail? A: I'm gonna do a remix"). The single was nominated for 5 Grammys.

In track listing order, the follow up track is the mellowing "Underneath the Stars" a blusterous soak in lighthearted urban pop, which finds Carey feeling the nostalgia as she sings over a dreamy composition with appropriately fitted faint soars of high pitched vocals in the background. Following is the uplifting, ground breaking duet with R&B quartet, Boyz II Men on "One Sweet Day" one of the best power ballads ever recorded. Carey and the boys' vocals blend of magically on here, such a treasured rarity in music, I would think. The song's initial inspiration C+C Music Factory member, David Cole and Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark, but in the end the protagonist of the song was to acknowledge death of friends. "One Sweet Day" spent a record breaking 16 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100--a record that Boyz II Men had previously broken twice with their singles "End of the Road" which topped the chart for 13 weeks and "I'll Make Love to You" which reigned for 14. The song earned 2 Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Collaboration with Vocals.

The first solo ballad of the album is Carey's remake of Journey's 1982 hit "Open Arms" a fantastic vocally fronted ballad--possibly acquiring the same blueprint as "Anytime You Need A Friend" without the choir, whilst not becoming an official single, it earned Carey a top 5 hit in the UK. As you would expect, Daydream, is a pretty ballad heavy album--which was what I really liked about it most. The gospel influenced piano and drum ballad "I Am Free" is a terrific number, not as noticeably vocally challenging as some of the other ballads, but when has that ever stopped a ballad from amounting to greatness. The more traditional ballad compositions appear on "When I Saw You" probably coming in at the top of the best Carey and Afanasieff hook ups on the album. It's emotionally sung, giving a great build up to the last chorus.

Daydream, marked the first time Carey would collaborate with rapper and producer, Jermaine Dupri--who then become a recurrent staple to Carey's music for years to come. The collaboration spawned the guitar strung, urban tinged "Always Be My Baby" Carey's 11th #1 single, also earning her a Grammy nomination in the R&B category. This is a fantastic song, definitely among her best. This is a pretty R&B fronted number, but the album really switches up Carey's traditional adult contemporary--urban--pop for more hip-hop and R&B preferences on "Long Ago" which thumps a slick, slightly darkening, hip-hop bassline--accompanied by Carey's sharp vocal. I also like the use of piano keys throughout.

There's not a bad track in the bunch, even the last couple tracks don't show any signs of steam loss. Babyface's producing skills are put to the forefront on "Melt Away" a smooth but swagger laden ballad. The '50s inspired ballad "Forever" is another gem; Carey gives a stunning vocal performance. The only dud about the album is the dance remix of "Fantasy" which I don't like very much (this was also done for "Honey" on, Butterfly) this was the first time she'd incorporated a remix onto an album. The only time Carey's done a remix of a single on an album that I've liked is the "Heartbreaker" remix, Featuring Missy Elliot and Da Brat, on the, Rainbow album.

The album plays out with "Looking In" a haunting ballad, in which Carey proclaims there's more to her than what we see: ("you look at me and see the girl, who lives inside a golden world"). It's pretty touching, backed with nice orchestrations too. I guess, this was pretty nice set up for what was to come on, Butterfly. Daydream, is a phenomenal album and aside from, Butterfly, I don't think Carey has ever been able to match it--not even with, The Emacipation of Mimi--which I've given a lot of praise to. Whilst I'm in love with the current single "Obsessed" I'm doubt the forthcoming album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, will be force to reckoned with, Daydream or Music Box or even Butterfly.

Best: One Sweet Day, Fantasy, Always Be My Baby, Open Arms, When I Saw You, Underneath the Stars, Forever, I Am Free


ww_adh said...

Although I don't like Daydream as much as you, I appreciate the thought you put into reviewing it. I listened to it last week (along with all her other albums), in preparation for my retrospective. A factual quibble: Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love" broke the record for 14 weeks at #1.

J.Mensah said...

yay, a retrospective! look forward to reading it--including the one assume your doing for whitney and madonna?

ww_adh said...

Oh yes, I'll be doing them too.