Mariah Carey - Merry Christmas II You (2010)

Mariah Carey
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At the peak of her powers, when Mariah Carey was being compared only to Whitney Houston, Mariah dropped her illuminating 1992 holiday album Merry Christmas. Because of her glowing presence in pop music, the album soared to the top of the charts, went platinum a number of times and quickly became one of the best-selling holiday albums of all time. Backed by Walter Afanasieff's arrangements, her foray into gospel-tinged holiday hymns and the original Beach Boy doo-wop tingled tune "All I Want For Christmas Is You" was an unadulterated success, and the album remains a prominent staple in music changers and on Muzak. More than a decade later, Carey revisits her love for the holidays with Merry Christmas II You and rekindles most of the magic and traditional nostalgia of its predecessor, rather than focusing on the urban-pop that's defined much of her work since her departure from Sony.

At the peak of her powers, when Mariah Carey was being compared only to Whitney Houston, Mariah dropped her illuminating 1992 holiday album Merry Christmas. Because of her glowing presence in pop music, the album soared to the top of the charts, went platinum a number of times and quickly became one of the best-selling holiday albums of all time. Backed by Walter Afanasieff's arrangements, her foray into gospel-tinged holiday hymns and the original Beach Boy doo-wop tingled tune "All I Want For Christmas Is You" was an unadulterated success, and the album remains a prominent staple in music changers and on Muzak. More than a decade later, Carey revisits her love for the holidays with Merry Christmas II You and rekindles most of the magic and traditional nostalgia of its predecessor, rather than focusing on the urban-pop that's defined much of her work since her departure from Sony. Her whistle register and dreamy sounds are still in tact and her love for gospel-pop on the mashup medleys of "O Little Town of Bethlehem/Little Drummer Boy" and "The First Noel/Born Is the King" remains untouched.

It's obvious to the ear that Carey's holiday return seems to mimic most of the work Afanasieff outlined once before. Producers James Wright and Randy Jackson, handling the bulk of the album, carve out their best Afanasieff-styled arrangements without sounding so much like a blatant knock-off. On "O Come All Ye Faithful/Hallelujah Chorus," where Wright and Jackson utilize their powers best, the song does a fine job flowing from popera (thanks to her mother Patricia Carey's operatic contribution to the Handel lyric "For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth") to spine-tingling gospel. Carey also does a fine job in avoiding Christina Aguilera-esque melismatic rollercoasters by bearing hard on breathy coos and perfectly-timed powerhouse belting used during song climaxes. The end result is both a reverential salute to the traditional festivities of classic holiday collections and a respectful nod to her 16-year old soundtrack.

A few originals, co-written by Carey, are also enclosed but come with mixed emotions: "Oh Santa!" sounds like Toni Basil's "Hey Mickey" with sleigh-ride jingles, and the sugary "Christmas Time Is In the Air Again" borrows heavily from "The Christmas Song." Of the new tunes made available, the James Poyser contribution, "When Christmas Comes," stands out so well with its deep sultry R&B grooves and romantic lyrics that it could easily be snugged between "We Belong Together" and "Fly Like a Bird" outside the holiday season.

The album takes a few minor detours into Mariah's urban curiosities using Jermaine Dupri's "Here Comes Santa Claus." The song plays with the bass line from Chic's "Good Times" while "Aude Lang Syne" gets a very surprising ‘90's techno/club makeover. It's not exactly terrible, but its absence wouldn't be missed.

For those looking for some memento on Carey's sequel of Merry Christmas, Carey's holiday gem "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is reprised. Besides the extra festive jingles, the absence of the draggy gospel-ish acapella intro and an extended repetitive tag, "All I Want For Christmas Is You," unscathed from a potential atomic disaster, contains the same ingredients of the original. Fans of the original shouldn't expect anything spectacular, except for more of the Supremes magic on the extended closing. It was a classic then and remains a standout now, even with the newly-extended mix. A live version of "O Holy Night," taken from the 1994 studio version, is also nestled deep into the set.

"All I Want for Christmas" is so deeply engraved in our Christmas memories that it's virtually impossible to think another song from Carey would top its luxurious tapestry of nostalgic textures and feel-good vibes. "Oh Santa!" and "When Christmas Comes" are decent updates on Carey, as well as the lush arrangements from Wright and Jackson, but nothing on board Merry Christmas II You equals up to the long-lasting glimmers of "All I Want for Christmas," besides its remake.  Still as a whole, the album serves as a splendid follow-up to a classic holiday album, pointing Carey in the right direction for her next studio album. Recommended

By J Matthew Cobb

 
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