04 December 2013

Mariah Carey Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas Mariah Carey Full of Catchy Gospel Notes and Mass Appeal
By Kristin Battestella

Thanks to its big hits, successful singles, multi platinum status, and record-breaking global numbers, many people are plenty aware of pop vocalist Mariah Carey’s 1994 Merry Christmas album, and this 10-track session is a solid seasonal package for numerous audiences.

Though it betrays the big pop singles released for Merry Christmas, Silent Night showcases the gospel trend and ever so slight reverent dominance here. Mariah and the backing choir take their soulful time like a candlelight church gathering on Christmas Eve. This might have been better as a goodnight, sleep tight finale to Merry Christmas, but its opening placement invites the listener to tune in for more of the same dedication. Of course, the still huge single All I Want for Christmas Is You proves why a festive, catchy, hip, and happening springboard remains the go to model for a chart-topping album. Co-written by Carey, this ditty sounds modern fast and happy, but harkens to a past Spector sound underneath its repeating, memorable, and bittersweet lyrics of missing love. We are caught up in singing along, this contagiousness subliminally makes the listener yearn for good old, happy holiday times, and thus, we take Mariah and Merry Christmas home. It’s ingenious in its simplicity and a dang fine tune.  

The O Holy Night single, however, feels a bit too jazzed up or slightly faster than expected for such a potentially Old World and rousing carol. Save for Mariah and a few other pure vocalists, not many singers can hit these notes, yet the tempo here seems too easy or rhythmically meant for the choir rather than Carey. The second refrain does make room for her high notes and the rendition is completely smooth, but it might be a little disappointing or even a miss for avid holiday listeners expecting a full, operatic sensation. Ironically, the Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) cover makes up for any missing big notes with another classic Wall of Sound all out production – although the fun is too short at only two and a half minutes. Track placement on Merry Christmas smartly factors into making these secular sounds feel like big carols while the hymns become modern easy listening classics all over again.

Miss You Most (At Christmas Time) is a tender, R&B-esque ballad also co-written by Carey and tosses a touch of adult contemporary winter reflection into Merry Christmas. The words and her delivery tug at all the right heartstrings, again allowing for an emotional listening connection. I imagine a lot of folks still try and sing this one themselves in big, power ballad fashion, don’t lie. These up and down, varying track designs would seem uneven on any other album, but Merry Christmas smartly keeps its easy holiday theme going throughout the set while deviating just enough on the spin to appeal to every niche. I can’t fault Joy to the World and it’s big single remixes for being happy and exciting, but the dance beat here is a little too weird. Didn’t people already dance in the pews to this without the club the groove? Likewise, Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World is one of the few songs I like by them, but it’s too strange to break out in its refrain amid the carol – no matter how you re-spin it. I could understand a fun ad lib bullfrog lyric on the fade out ending, but to alternate with the hymn verses seems confused. Then again, audiences who didn’t care for the carol now have a reason to like this rendition. Touché Merry Christmas.  

Also successfully catering to the album’s gospel elements and its respective audiences is the Carey penned Jesus Born on this Day. A pure vocalist and a children’s choir singing from the soul are all it takes for a 20-year-old CD to have continued, perennial success, as indicated by this church power single. The strategy works far better than this new wave of pop obnoxiousness, where nothing seems to be about the music, voice, and/or talent of the singer. I’ve never heard Miley, Katy, or Gaga’s music but I sure as heck know who they are.  While Carey is certainly an entertainment industry spectacle, she backs up her butterfly flair with talent and album shrewdness. Listeners were given exactly what they wanted with Merry Christmas. We’re still buying it and talking about the 2010 Merry Christmas II You follow up because tracks like Santa Claus is Coming to Town remain festive enough for the whole family. There’s lullaby notes, sleigh bells, tambourines, and big drums that have you tapping along on your steering wheel every time it comes on the ad nauseam radio. Yes, there’s too much choir and not quite enough Mariah, but all holiday albums practically require this kids rock out classic.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Gloria (In Excelsis Deo) quiets the Spector background to start with just Mariah belting the verses while the choir sprinkles in the Latin. It makes one wonder why nobody else has every combined these carols before and nearly demands they should always be medleyed together henceforth. Everyone’s singing all the Wesley words we know and love and holding those fun angelic notes, too! It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside – until it’s over in a speedy three minutes flat. Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child concludes Merry Christmas with a grooving gospel choir. Despite being a slightly less familiar traditional, we tap our feet, clap our hands, and sing along. Mariah and her gospel team send the album out with quick beats and a rocking finish, inviting us to the meek and mild titular Child in great, rousing, celebratory fashion.

Merry Christmas is a very smooth, lasting album because it pleases every audience with its tailored demographic styling. Granted, some older Millennials may already be sick of this album. To a seriously reverent holiday listener looking for a straight, somber Christmas set where Mariah and only Mariah lets high note loose, Merry Christmas may be a letdown because of its orchestrated design and mass appeal production. Some audiences may see the pop coming and get it while other won’t enjoy the ‘I see what you did there’ bubble gum obvious, yet I have to applaud distinguished producer Walter Afanasieff’s future generations thinking and marketing tenacity. Merry Christmas is a good, traditional enough Christmas album – but it’s a great pop record under 40 minutes, too. While there’s nary a somber note, the then-surprising gospel frame holds up in what is truly a smartly made and carefully crafted ultimate holiday session for the masses. Fans of Mariah Carey, gospel listeners old and new, and Christmas music lovers of all walks can have a family good time with this Merry Christmas.

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