As we head into a 1991 that was full of big releases, no artist had more success on the charts than Mariah Carey and her self-titled debut album. Stepping into the forum of female megastars, Mariah and her infamous five-octave range is on full display on this first album. The first single of the album, which is also the opening song, “Vision of Love” shows you all you need to know about the power and range of her voice. While I’m not a massive fan of her music overall, I acknowledge how strong of a singer she was and would probably rate this as my favorite track on the album.
Working her way up the ladder of the New York City recording scene, once discovered by record execs, including her future husband Tommy Mottola, who ran Columbia Records, Mariah was surrounded by the best in songwriting and production teams to help craft this big first album. To her credit, Mariah was always a big part of the songwriting, even in this controlling environment, but her struggles to have full artistic control over her work would be a recurring theme as she worked to emerge from all of many people seeking to profit from her talent.
As I noted, there is nothing on this album that really blows me away, and even though they are very polished pop songs, I do feel there are moments when they exist as a framework for over-displaying her range. Just because you can go up four octaves in your range, it doesn’t mean you have to in every song, and just like a guitarist doesn’t always have to play the highest note on the fretboard, I often finding myself wishing Mariah could have actually dialed it back as her natural starting point is of course, perfect in tone.
The first four singles on the album, “Vision of Love”, “Love Takes Time”, “Someday”, and “I Don’t Wanna Cry” all reached #1 on the charts, and in most part, those are probably the songs that stand out most to me. If I had to pick one other, I would go with “There’s Got to Be a Way”, which was the 5th single from the record. Like I said, this pop-heavy, sometimes over-sung R&B sound is not usually a big favorite of mine, but I have immense respect for Mariah Carey’s raw talent and her successful navigation through a music business full of manipulation and control.