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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mariah Carey, "Butterfly"

Mariah Carey
Columbia (1997)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

There are two predominant storylines that serve as the background for what is generally referred to as Mariah Carey’s best album, “Butterfly.” One, Carey’s recent divorce from Sony Music president Tommy Mottola, and two, Carey’s shift from a contemporary pop vocalist toward a more hip-hop and R&B-based style. As is usually the case with multiple storylines, the two are intertwined.

Regardless of Carey’s actual marital problems Mottola, both he and Sony, Carey’s label, were apparently overly conservative in their approach to her music. Carey had worked with rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard on her previous album, “Daydream,” and the vocalist was interested in pursuing the sound further. Carey had released 11 no. 1 singles up to that point in her career, and Sony was hesitant to allow it. Mottola was also supposedly controlling within their marriage, including rumors that he locked Carey in his mansion when he went out. Carey has denied all the juicy gossip, so Mottola isn’t exactly Phil Spector. However, many still point at “Butterfly” as

Carey’s coming out from Mottola’s shadow, and therefore a statement against him.
Undoubtedly, Carey’s full-on pursuit of the hip-hop and R&B influence was encouraged by her spite for Sony (She would have problems with Columbia as well during recording despite their encouragement of the R&B sound, so she might be a contentious spirit herself). The style change was for better and for worse.

For better when she’s in an R&B mood. Ballads like the title track and “Whenever You Call” work great from a pop music perspective, and the instrumentation is subtle enough to allow Carey’s quiet voice to stand out. She can hit lofty volumes if she wants, but her voice tends to be high and airy, which causes it to get lost in more hip-hop oriented tracks because the beats are inclined to be louder. Ironically, possibly the two most popular tracks off of this album, “Honey” and “The Roof,” suffer from this. For example, in “The Roof,” the programmed drums are just too loud for her to overcome.

Are the lyrics really that barbed against Mottola? Rarely, but on occasion. “Butterfly” is a typical you’re-beautiful-once-you-develop track that could be read as a criticism of Mottola’s control over her music, and “Breakdown” is a reflection on the stress Carey endured (bolstered by the harmonies of several Bone Thugz). A little bitter perhaps, but the two are on good terms now, and most of these tracks are typical love and lust R&B fare. I have no complaints about the fact, but Mottola probably deserves a break.

INTERESTING FACT: Mottola was 31 years old when Carey's current husband, Nick Cannon, was born.

"Whenever You Call" I admit, this song isn't all that R&B, but it's still the best song on the album.

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