A great artist has hits. A truly extraordinary one has those as well as hidden treasures that extend to the deepest, darkest recesses of their discography. And then there’s Mariah Carey, who has 19 chart-toppers, beloved deep cuts and an album worth of flawless material sitting in the vault. Mimi finally dusts those pop relics off, and gives them a chance to shine on The Rarities (out now). Make no mistake, a collection of unreleased songs and B-Sides has no right being this good.
In some ways, however, it’s preferable to deconstruct The Rarities, and add individual songs to their intended albums or eras. That solves my one issue with the compilation. Namely, that it doesn’t always flow smoothly due to the way that trends and technology have evolved over time. But slot them into a playlist with other gems of their ilk and it all starts to make perfect sense. Take “Here We Go Around Again.” The Jackson 5-channeling bop feels a little old-school next to songs like “Cool On You,” but it’s hard to understand how something this effortlessly charming and catchy didn’t make the tracklist of Mariah’s debut album.
The same applies to “Can You Hear Me,” a stunning ballad penned for Emotions. Given that Mimi was well into her ballad era, this is AC-offering could have been a chart-topper. But then, some of the living legend’s best songs have ended up in strange places. Which takes us to the smattering of B-Sides on The Rarities. “Do You Think Of Me,” the synth-drenched, mid-tempo ballad that served as the B-Side to “Dreamlover,” still shines bright, while “Everything Fades Away” and “Slipping Away” are legendary within The Lambily for good reason.
While much of The Rarities is ballad-heavy, there are a handful of bops. “All I Live,” probably a Music Box reject, is a winning example of early ’90s R&B-lite. The diva’s pivot into that genre is more pronounced on “One Night,” an urban groove that probably scared the execs at Columbia at the time. It ranks as one of Mariah’s first collaborations with Jermaine Dupri, a creative relationship that would bear a lot of fruit in coming years. While we’re on the topic of bops, it would be remiss of me to ignore the original version of “Loverboy.”
In fact, this ditty gets a special writeup in Mariah’s memoir. Partly because it was the genesis of Mimi’s legendary beef with Jennifer Lopez (AKA She Who Is Unknown). The 19-time chart-topper originally wanted to sample Yellow Magic Orchestra’s 1978 hit “Firecracker” on “Loverboy,” but Tommy Mottola was allegedly feeling petty and snatched it for J.Lo’s “I’m Real.” Strangely, I think it all worked out for the best. I prefer the version of “Loverboy” that samples Cameo’s “Candy,” while the “Firecracker”-sampling “I’m Real” is an undeniable bop. In any case, it’s fascinating to hear this demo.
Of all the goodies on The Rarities, Mariah’s stunning cover of Irene Cara’s “Out Here On My Own” might be my favorite. Her vocal on this track is heaven-sent and, thematically, it makes complete sense for Mimi. She clearly connects with the lyrics, and sings every line straight from the heart. Another highlight for me is “Cool On You.” This bop probably stems from E=MC² era and finds our heroine in full club mode. It’s light and feathery fun that gets stuck in your head after the very first listen.
That takes us to the final stretch of The Rarities, which is by far the most eclectic. There’s a ballad called “I Pray,” which Mariah penned for Lina Robins-Tamure (formerly Paul Robbins), “Mesmerized” a curiously sedate mid-tempo that was supposed to appear in The Paperboy, a live cover of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Lullaby Of Birdland” and lead single, “Save The Day” — which is as timely as a song that was written in 2011 can be. The real jewel in the crown, however, is Mimi’s rerecording of “Close My Eyes” from Butterfly. Few songs capture the power of the superstar’s voice and pen as well as this.
The Rarities is obviously essential listening for fans, but well worth diving into for general music lovers. After all, this is an important piece of pop history.
Rating: 5/5 (for Lambs), 4/5 (for Goats/non-believers)