Sunday, October 18, 2020

Review: The Rarities • Mariah Carey

In 2018, two Mariah Carey albums entered cultural conversation: One was the brand new Caution, arguably her leanest, most effective release this side of Y2K. The other was Glitter, a record synonymous with turmoil in Carey’s lore. Released on Sept. 11, 2001, soon after Carey was hospitalized for an untreated bipolar episode and suicide attempt during its lead-up promotion, the record and its associated film were deemed Carey’s first true failures as an entertainer and were retroactively scrubbed from her digital footprint. But by the release of Caution, fans – Carey calls them her lambs, collectively the lambily – had reconsidered Glitter and its media framing: The only option was to demand reparations for the record that had been dwarfed by the criticism against it.

The resulting hashtag movement, #JusticeForGlitter, gained traction on Twitter and shot the record to the top of the iTunes best-selling albums chart. While the market share of iTunes downloads had already eroded by then, it was enough to catch attention from legacy media and Carey herself. To thank her lambs, she incorporated a Glitter medley into her live shows and posted the record in all its post-disco glory to streaming platforms – with simply “MARIAH” listed in its label attribution, hinting that she may have bought the rights to the record from her former label. Despite popular perception to the contrary, Mariah Carey is much more self-aware than she is portrayed. And from time to time, when she isn’t releasing something like Merry Christmas II You or #1s to Infinity, she knows exactly what diehard fans want from their favorite artists – something like The Rarities.

Not unlike a digital bootleg parceled together with illegal downloads and leaked material, The Rarities parcels lost songs from across her career into a most-wanted mixtape. Largely containing downtempo cuts from early to mid-1990s record sessions, the collection of session scraps is sturdy enough to legitimize Mariah Carey as a solid songwriter even outside of the hits. It becomes a new milestone in the retroactive redemption already in motion to reiterate that she crafted her own music during her blockbuster run in the '90s, a fact that many listeners ignored at the time. And while nothing on The Rarities feels essential to her career – sensual rhythm and blues number "Do You Think Of Me" is the only track to feel like a foolish omission from its parent album – not a single moment is unenjoyable, even if many are simply unremarkable.

The disc of outtakes is an invaluable gift for Carey’s fans, but the second disc may be better suited for the casual listener: A crystal-clear recording of a 1996 Tokyo concert, the first international tour stop in her career. It is particularly important given that she largely neglected to tour until that point in favor of rapid-fire album releases under her then-husband's control. The concert recording here is a stellar showing at the height of her career's first act: Carey reveals alternate melodies and delivers some of her smoothest vocals to be captured in a live setting. With its crowd-pleaser setlist and impressive vocal performances, the concert attempts – and succeeds, at least more often than the first side of this record – to accomplish the same mission statement as her accompanying memoir: The vindication of Mariah Carey as a songwriter, a vocalist, and a world-class entertainer.

The Rarities is available now under Columbia Records.

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