I am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse? A Look Back At Mariah Carey’s Albums, The Best And The Worst

May 9, 2014  |  
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As the always entertaining and wildly talented Mariah Carey prepares to release her 14th studio album entitled “Me. I am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse,” we felt that it was the perfect time to take a look back at her musical career. From the highs to the lows, we provide our take on MC’s best and worst albums.

Best: Mariah Carey

Can’t knock the original. When Mariah Carey burst onto the scene with her 1990, self-titled debut album, the music world knew it had come into something special. Showcasing her powerful vocals with soaring ballads and fun pop tunes, the album instantly found success, delivering such hits as “Vision of Love,” “Someday,” and “Love Takes Time.” While in retrospect, some of the album’s songs might seem a little boring, it’s difficult to knock MC’s performance.

Worst: Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

After 11 albums, you’d think Mariah could churn out hits in her sleep, but sadly that was not the case. That’s not to say the album didn’t have high points — “Obsessed” was a solid and refreshing sound from Mariah — but on a whole, the work’s overly airy tone, mixed with a plethora of hand-waveable numbers just seemed a step back from her earlier works. It’s also s the only album of Carey’s multi-decade career not to reach platinum status. 

Best: Butterfly

Now this is what we call a grown-up Mariah. “Butterfly” was MC’s independence day. After years under the control of husband Tommy Mottola, Mariah was finally free to experiment with different sounds and genres to an extent she never had before on her 1997 album “Butterfly.” Featuring hits “My All,” “Honey” and the gritty “The Roof,” Mariah showed her range without sacrificing or hiding her incredible vocal abilities.

Worst: Charmbracelet

You can’t win them all. And such was the case with Mariah’s “Charmbracelet” record. Critics were generally disappointed with Mariah’s ninth studio album, citing the record’s sappy, melancholy ballads, the strained sound of her voice, and the lack of a standout, instant chart-topping single. And, sadly, we have to agree with those critiques.

Best: Rainbow

Led by the hit “Heartbreaker,” “Rainbow” continued to show Mariah’s range as she expanded past I-love-you-baby ballads and adult contemporary standards. With some R&B and hip-hop influences, including appearances by Jay-Z, Joe and Snoop Dogg, “Rainbow” immediately found a home among both pop and R&B fans, and received solid reviews from critics who lauded Carey’s willingness to experiment.

Worst: Emotions

Now hear us out before you get the torches and pitchforks. While few Mariah songs could make us shiver quite like “Emotions,” the album as a whole was disappointing when compared to her smash debut work. Topping out at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, “Emotions” seemed disjointed, a mash-up of just too many genres to make a cohesive record.

Best: Merry Christmas

The record that solidified MC’s place in Christmas history, “Merry Christmas” remains one of the greatest holiday albums of the last several decades. A combination of timeless standards and new hits, most notably “All I Want For Christmas (Is You),” the album was certainly big on Mariah’s jaw-dropping vocals. While some could accuse the songstress of oversinging, if there is a time to go big with gospel-infused numbers, it’s certainly Christmas.

Best: Music Box

“Music Box” certainly had its share of high notes (pun intended). With nearly half of its tracks reaching the top 10, “Music Box” was a tour-de-force that showed off Mariah’s incredible range and ability to dominate the pop charts The record included hits “Dreamlover,” “Hero” and “Anytime You Need a Friend” and featured MC co-writing many of the tracks, just another step toward her asserting her musical independence.

The Best: Daydream

Loved by critics and fans alike, “Daydream” spawned a number of hits including “Fantasy,” “Always Be My Baby” and the dominant “One Sweet Day” with Boyz II Men. “One Sweet Day” became the longest-running No. 1 single in U.S. history (16 weeks) — that’s certainly something to hang your hat on. Overall the album embodied the best of Mariah: classic, soaring vocals, catchy pop hooks (with a tinge of R&B) and heartfelt lyrics.

The Worst: Glitter Soundtrack

Granted, this wasn’t completely an MC disaster and technically not a studio album, but we couldn’t help ourselves in including this atrocity in our countdown. While we’ll admit that “Loverboy” was catchy as all get-out, the rest of the record (in conjunction with the complete cluster**** that was the film) really made us cringe.

Best: The Emancipation of Mimi

We’ll admit that this record was not up to par with some of Mariah’s earlier hits, but it did mark a comeback from the more questionable “Charmbracelet.” The record’s two standouts “It’s Like That” and “We Belong Together” brought Mariah chart-topping success that she hadn’t seen in years. And don’t even get us started on how fabulous MC looked on the album cover. Healthy and happy is the kind of Mariah we love to see.

Worst: Merry Christmas II You

Mariah is all about the Christmas spirit, and we love that about her. But one stellar X-mas album was really all we needed from her. Quit while you’re ahead, girl.

Best: E=MC²

The follow-up to MC’s “The Emancipation of Mimi,” “E=MC²” continued Mariah’s comeback and exploration of her craft. Free from years of drama, MC celebrated her independence with catchy hooks and more of an infusion of hip-hop and R&B undertones.

TBD: Me. I am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse

OK, so the name of Mariah’s upcoming album leaves something to be desired (though the backstory is somewhat interesting — see below), but given that the singer hasn’t churned out a studio album in nearly four years our hopes are high. Maybe we’ll end up putting unrealistic expectations on MC that she won’t be able to achieve, but this is Mariah: We have faith she can exceed our wildest dreams.

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