Voice Of Power

CD Review (US) December 1994. Text by Larry Flick.

Mariah Carey' voyage into pop stardom begins on a fateful Friday evening in 1988 when she and dance songbird Brenda K. Starr — for whom Carey was a background singer — attend a music industry soiree. With a cassette containing tunes she wrote and recorded with pal/writer Ben Margulies in hand, she approaches Sony Records executive Jerry Greenberg. But before he can listen to it, Tommy Mottola, the president of Columbia Records, grabs the tape and tucks it into his pocket.

On his was to another appointment, Mottola plays the demo in his car. Quite taken with her voice, after two songs he swings back to the party to find Carey — but she is long gone. The two connect the next day, and within a month a long-term contract is inked. This partnership with Mottola also would grow more personal. The two would later marry in 1993.

Before her 24th birthday, four of Carey's albums would sell more than 10 million copies worldwide, she would gather an armload of awards, including two Grammys, six Soul Train statues, and two American Music Awards. She's also the top-selling solo artist of the '90s so far, and is noted for her ability to flatten the competition with a soaring, operatic range.

And with each album, the New York-bred singer also has gained more navigational control over her music. Clearly tapping into her acrobatic vocal skills, early singles such as "Vision of Love" and "Emotions" exploited glass-breaking notes to the hilt. Her most recent multi-platinum opus, Music Box, displays a more seasoned and soulful performer. While she still scales to soprano heights, she also hits far more sultry lows now.

"I'm telling my stories in my own way," she says. "Not everything has to be soul-searching, gut-wrenching, heart-rending. I'm not going to kill myself dinging in night and day for that inner pain. If I did, I think it would be too heavy. I would hurt people, and I would hurt myself. I'm not ready for it."

What Carey is ready to tackle is Christmas music. And the mere thought of Carey lending her voice to a collection of standards rings so true and logical that you almost have to question what took so long for it to happen. Upon exploration of her new Columbia disc, simply titled Merry Christmas, the answer is clear. This project is more than a seasonal release for Carey — it's an event.

In addition to holiday favorites such as "Silent Night" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," the album is balanced by three Carey originals. But the prim, element separating this album from other superstar sets aimed at luring sentimental consumers to the cash register is an intensive marketing campaign that's been carefully designed to maximize the impact of such a time-sensitive venture.

Columbia is extensively promoting three different songs. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is geared toward Top 40 and adult listeners, while another original, "Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)," is pegged for urban radio consumption. Both songs are supported by video clips. Then programmers of gospel and Christian stations are being fed "Born on This Day," the third of the new songs.

And if that's not inclusive enough, Carey's solid club following will get to hear remixes of "Joy to the World," which melds the traditional carol with the Three Dog Night '70s-era chestnut of the same name.

Columbia's energy appears directly descendant from the creative philosophy Carey had for the album.

"I'm a very festive person," Carey says, "and I love the holidays. It was hard to choose which classic songs to record. So many of the songs have been done to death. You have to have a nice balance between standard Christmas hymns and fun songs.

"It was definitely a priority for me to write at least a few new songs, but for the most part people really want to hear the standards at Christmas, no matter how good a new song is."

Merry Christmas provides a momentary break in what has been a sterling string of hits for the charismatic pop diva. Her most recent is a duet with soul crooner Luther Vandross on "Endless Love." Their remake of the Lionel Richie/Diana Ross ballad spent most of the fall in the Top 10. Looking ahead, the singer is already knee-deep in preparation for her next album, which is scheduled to hit stores next fall. "I don't really stop writing or stop having musical ideas," Carey says. "I like to keep everything flowing."

Most of all, Carey takes her whirlwind success in stride. "Sometimes I have to stop and reflect on all that's happened to me," she says. "I'm really living a dream, because this is what I wanted to do throughout my entire life."