Album Review: Mariah Carey, “Rainbow” (1999)

I’ve always been a fan of Mariah Carey. I’m a sucker for big talent, and Carey’s five-octave range voice has appealed to me from the first time I heard her sing “Vision of Love.” Throughout the years I’ve purchased her albums and supported her career- even when her work didn’t quite match the potential of her talent.

A perfect example of this comes with Carey’s seventh studio album, Rainbow. The disc was released in 1999, and was an odd mixture of ballads and collaborations with hip-hop artists of the time. There are a few bright spots, but as a whole, the disc falls terribly flat, and is one of the weakest entries in Carey’s catalog.

The album begins with the bouncy lead single, Heartbreaker. It’s a bonafide catchy and fun pop song, and includes a verse from rapper, Jay-Z.  Though the song isn’t saying anything profound (the chorus consists of the line, “Heartbreaker, you’ve got the best of me/But I just keep on coming back incessantly”), it’s a breezy, carefree track that was a huge hit.

Things change up immediately with the first of many ballads, Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme). The song is the typical Diane Warren-penned ballad; overly sappy, corny, and filled with lots of piano and soaring vocals. This works well for Carey, as the song allows her to show off her trademark vocal styling, though, for the most part, the ballad doesn’t go anywhere too exciting. Sure, the lyrics are nice and inspirational (“They can say/Anything they want to say/Try to bring me down/But I will not allow anyone to succeed hanging clouds over me”), but the song is pretty standard, and we’ve heard Carey hit these same notes before and sing this same type of song before (wasn’t “Hero” this same exact song?)

One of my favorite ballads on the album, however, is After Tonight. The track certainly calls to mind some of Carey’s earlier work, particularly during her Emotions era, but this is definitely not a bad thing. The tenderness of her voice is one of the most alluring things of the song, especially as she sings about the vulnerability she feels regarding a relationship (“After tonight/Will you remember/How sweet and tenderly/You reached for me and pulled me closer?/After you go/Will you return to love me/After tonight begins to fade? “). Her vocals get a workout, and we get a nice showcase of Carey’s range, but it’s done in a beautifully subdued way, which goes along great with the intimacy of the song.

Meanwhile, Carey performs a cover version of Phil Collins‘ classic, Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now). Now, anyone who reads my reviews knows that covers really irk me. They can be a beautiful thing if done properly- meaning, different from the original- and if the cover artist somehow breathes new life into the song. If I find a cover song too close to the original version, or if the artist butchers a perfectly good song, I’m usually pretty irritated. Carey’s cover is somewhere in the middle- it doesn’t anger me, but it doesn’t excite me either. Honestly, I’ve never heard Carey butcher any song- I just don’t think a singer as good as she could, but she definitely does do a lot of over singing in this song. The beginning starts off understated enough, with 90’s sounding backing music to give the song a more updated feel, but by the third or fourth chorus, it seems like Carey is trying too hard to prove she has the vocal prowess to impress us with this song. Even then, the track is still listenable, and at one time (okay, back when I was 12, when this CD came out- and don’t you feel old now?), the song was my absolute favorite on the album.

Mariah Carey GMA 2005

The rest of the album, I have to say, is pretty…well…bad. Rainbow came at a time in Carey’s life and career when she was trying to rebel against her former image and change her sound to appeal to a more contemporary/urban R&B market. This, unfortunately, finds her collaborating with several R&B and raps stars that you’d never imagine hearing her with, and the result is a bit of a train wreck.

How Much is the first of many offenses, and features R&B singer, Usher. In my mind, a collab between Mariah Carey and Usher sounds wonderful, and perhaps they should try it again in the future, but this song is a complete disaster. Jermaine Dupri‘s production is poorly executed, and the track as a whole is very weak and sounds like some sort of generic R&B crap you’d heard playing in the back of a bad movie. X-Girlfriend is even worse, believe it or not. R&B producer, Kandi Burruss, lends her “talents” to this watered-down, uninspired track. Even though the Heartbreaker (Remix) features big name rappers Missy Elliot and Da Brat, the song is still horrible- the featured raps from Da Brat and Elliot are nice enough, but the remix is completely unnecessary and too similar to the original. Crybaby features Snoop Dogg, and might have been a better song if it didn’t sound like a rip off of Carey’s earlier duet with Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony, “Breakdown”, which was a stronger song, by far. AndDid I Do That?, a track with rappers Mystikal and Master P is the most horrendous thing I’ve ever heard on one of Carey’s albums. Both Mystikal and Master P are horrible rappers on their own- so imagine them together with Carey awkwardly tripping over the poorly written verses. I can’t imagine what the B-sides to this album must have been if these are the tracks that made it.

The final song and last collaboration on the album is Thank God I Found You, which features R&B star of the time, Joe, and third-rate boy band (even then, they were third-rate compared to NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys) 98 Degrees. Though both Joe and 98 Degrees have become nothing more than one or two-hit wonders at this point in time, the song is decent enough, and fares much better than any of the other duets on the album. All its cheesiness aside, the song isn’t too bad and was a pretty big radio hit. The lyrics are again inspirational (“Thank God I found you /I was lost without you/My every wish and every dream /Somehow became reality”) and the song would’ve been perfect on any pop album of the time, but Carey and the boys sound good together, at least.

It’s sad how bad Rainbow is. Any Mariah Carey fan wants to love everything she releases, but it’s hard to find something to love amongst the ridiculous collaborations and cheaply produced tracks. Thankfully, a few of the ballads save the album from being a complete waste, but it’s certainly not one of the strongest points in Carey’s career.

Rating: 2_stars.svg

Track List
1. Heartbreaker – (featuring Jay-Z)
2. Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)
3. Bliss
4. How Much – (featuring Usher)
5. After Tonight
6. Ex-Girlfriend
7. Heartbreaker – (remix, featuring Da Brat/Missy Elliott)
8. Vulnerability (Interlude)
9. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
10. Crybaby – (featuring Snoop Dogg)
11. Did I Do That? (featuring Mystikal and Master P)
12. Petals
13. Rainbow (Interlude)
14. Thank God I Found You – (featuring Joe/98°) 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMCGvtlL4fw]
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