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The Rarities is the newest testament to Mariah Carey’s legendary artistry

"The Rarities"

Release date: 02 October 2020
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05 October 2020, 07:46 Written by Udit Mahalingam
Acting as a musical extension to her critically acclaimed new memoir, Mariah Carey’s latest record offers its listeners with a glimpse into the development of the singer’s extensive artistry, documenting her influence – and indeed her presence – in the popular music that has emerged since her debut.

Often synonymous with the excesses of contemporary stardom, many have been quick to categorise Carey as nothing more than a talented vocalist, an idiosyncratic figure notorious for her epic put-downs and her even more epic diva demands. Her recent induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame has, to some extent, pivoted critical focus toward’s the singer’s core artistry, leading to something of a re-assessment of her stature as a credible songwriter and producer, at the helm of her discography’s development.

In this vein, The Rarities, Carey’s eighth compilation record, serves as a capsule of the singer’s ever-evolving artistry, acting as a double to the songs that have more or less dominated the public consciousness. The album’s first two tracks, “Here We Go Around” and “Can You Hear Me”, are four-minute displays of the singer’s characteristic bombast, both recorded to the same standard of the fin-de-siecle '80s dance pop and R&B balladry of Carey’s debut and sophomore record. Though reminders of the singer’s sheer vocal power, the standout moments on this record surprisingly manifest in the instances where Carey embraces the edges and imperfections of her naturally-aged instrument.

A live 2014 cover of Shearing and Weiss’s jazz standard, “Lullaby of Bird”, is a particular track of note. Channelling the grit of late-career performances from forbearers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Carey is soulful, brimming with conviction, and surprisingly playful, gleefully interrupting her performance mid-phrase to interact with her screaming audience. A 2020 cover of ‘Close My Eyes’, from her 1997 opus Butterfly, takes on a similar tack, imbuing the original performance with an elevated depth, maturity and profundity.

Counterbalancing the evolution of Carey’s voice on this record is the development of her artistry, which you can practically hear in real-time.. Whereas “All I Live For” and “Slipping Away” precursor the singer’s transition from traditional R&B balladry to buoyant hip-hop soul, more recent cuts such as “Cool on You” find the singer, albeit tentatively, adopt the vibe-over-voice approach that has characterised much of her oeuvre, and indeed the predominant output of R&B in the 2010s.

Despite tracks such as “I Pray” and “Save The Day” re-treading the Disney dewiness and naïve optimism of Carey’s earlier ballads, the hardening of the singer’s artistry is palpable across the record: trading the slow, slick pop-soul of her initial output with a confident, self-aware hip-hop sensibility.

The subtle, sonic shifts that play out across the first part of this compilation are effectively framed into focus by the record’s second component: a live show from Carey’s 1996 Tokyo Dome concert. These performances offer a snap-shot of the singer at a critical juncture in her career, anticipating her looming crossover into the then-burbling realm of hip-hop soul. Amidst the sounds of a cheering audience, and the ascending heights of her five-octave voice, Carey invites adoration, devotion, and above all, respect – sentiments that are undoubtedly evoked over the course of this one-of-a-kind compilation.

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