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Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey – #1 To Infinity (Compilation Review – North American Edition)

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Mariah Carey – #1 To Infinity (Compilation Review – North American Edition)

Throughout the 90s, Mariah Carey’s music was regularly played in my home as I was captivated by Music Box and Daydream, along with Carey’s earlier recordings that I would hear on the radio. I was also a frequent listener of Carey's first Christmas album, Merry Christmas, during the holiday season of course. Yes, longtime readers would undoubtedly remember my dislike of Christmas music, as I seem to reference it every chance I get, yet there was a period in time when this music was important to me. It no longer is, but I don't have any regrets listening to it at the time. Nevertheless, following Daydream, I found myself no longer connecting with Carey's music. Yes, she became increasingly a Diva, but she also shifted styles upon each new album; in my opinion, less successfully than Madonna has done over the years. Mind-blowing ballads such as Hero and Endless Love have become increasingly absent in Carey’s later releases and it's a shame from my perspective as she had the capacity to go head to head with the likes of Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion, but she chose a different creative path. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before she returns to her roots as her vocal range is absolutely incredible and classic ballads will always outlive the current pop trends.

Diva or not, Carey has an incredible back catalogue and as soon as #1 To Infinity was released on vinyl, I had to have it. It's important to note that there are different versions of this compilation; a North American release (the one which this review is based upon), an International version, and a Japanese edition. However, the vinyl edition has only ever featured the North American tracking and subsequently, if you want to enjoy the other editions, from other regions, you’ll have to import a CD as streaming services localise the album to your particular region.

The vinyl release is simply stunning, not only to listen to but to enjoy as a physical counterpart to the music. Presented in a heavy duty gatefold, you get the feeling that much care and thought was put into this production. As you open the gatefold, there is a short message to the fans, from Mariah, which is a nice touch. Carey also pens the inner sleeves, describing a little background of each song prior to the reprinting of the lyrics and production information. It’s wonderful to see this attention to detail as so many career perspective releases are thrown together as nothing more than a sales opportunity by the record label and often without the input of the artist.

Turning our attention to the record cover, I’m not a fan of it. I much prefer the photograph on the rear of the vinyl release as it encapsulates Carey’s innocent era as well as her more provocative era. That said, one can’t argue that the cover is striking and stands out from other records, therefore ensuring it isn’t missed on the shelves of your local record store.

Each record comes in a printed inner-sleeve and while the photographs detail much of Carey’s career, I find it interesting that the selected photographs somewhat conclude with Carey’s Butterfly era, rather than proceeding through to the compilation’s release in 2015. Nevertheless, the selected photographs are fantastic and are a joy to look at while listening to the record.

Vision of Love is the perfect song to commence the compilation on. While I was never fortunate enough to own Carey's self-titled debut album, it was impossible to go for any length of time without hearing Carey's soaring vocals on the radio. It's the kind of song, as many of Carey's classics are, that create the dreaded earworm. Of course, in this case, it’s a song that I'm happy to allow my subconscious to play over and over again as if it were a broken record.

Love Takes Time is a beautiful song and I truly hope Carey will return to her roots, in the future, where her vocal is crystal-clear and front and center. We already have more than enough manufactured and overproduced music. I want these power ballads. Exceptional!

Someday (MTV Unplugged) is a great performance. I would, however, have preferred them to edit the track down to the drumstick count in as the spoken word introduction is cheesy. Carey would probably hate this, but the backing vocalists make this live performance. It’s also a great mix and I don't know about you, but I’ve yet to come across a substandard MTV Unplugged performance, by any artist. While I do question the inclusion of a live track on a greatest hits compilation, Carey explains in the liner notes that she wasn’t completely satisfied with the overproduced version of the studio recording, whereas she found this version more appealing. After comparing both, she’s got a point. The original is substandard when compared to the MTV Unplugged performance. It’s actually difficult to listen to after the live version.

I Don’t Wanna Cry is another exceptional song from Carey's debut album. So well recorded, mixed, and mastered. It’s an incredibly musical song that encourages one to sit back, close their eyes, and turn up the volume.

Emotions has a great beat that compels you to move your body. It’s a little campy, but an absolute classic.

I'll Be There (Feat. Trey Lorenz) is an incredible cover, but I find Carey sings it too similar to the Jackson 5 original, rather than making it her own. Perhaps it was due to the last minute plan to record it for the MTV Unplugged performance that caused Carey to approach the song in this manner. Of course, the similar nature of her version could have been as a direct result of her admiration for the Jackson 5. Regardless, she nails it!

Dreamlover is a great pop song and god only knows how many times I played this song in the 90s, as Music Box was spun repeatedly. It isn't Carey's greatest song, that title goes to Hero, but it’s not far behind and will arguably be present on every Carey career perspective album that will see the light of day.

Hero is the definitive Mariah Carey song. While it has been played ad nauseam, it’s still her greatest recording and I don’t believe she'll ever top it.

Fantasy (Bad Boy Fantasy Feat. O.D.B) is an interesting choice as I've always enjoyed the original studio release, but I must say this remix is compelling and has grown on me the more I have played it. That said, I'm not sure I agree with remixes appearing on compilations. Neil Sedaka's The Very Best Of was somewhat ruined when some of his greatest songs appeared in a medley format. Thankfully I like this version of Fantasy as much as the original album version.

One Sweet Day (Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men) is a beautiful song. Both Carey and Boyz II Men were at their creative peaks when this song was recorded and it shows.

Always Be My Baby has a sensational intro, and while I enjoy the song, I find the verses to be pedestrian. Thankfully the chorus kicks this song into high gear. That said, I'm not sure if this song is compilation worthy. It's good, but is it great?

Honey isn't a bad song, but it’s overproduced and while it isn't dated, give it another couple of decades and the sonic signature will have aged quite badly.

My All is a beautiful ballad and is truly worthy of inclusion on this career perspective compilation. Carey really needs to focus on this style of song, in my opinion. In this category, she has very few peers.

Heartbreaker (Feat. Jay-Z) is fantastic. I don't know about you, but it gets me head-bopping and toe-tapping as I turn the volume up and sing along. Jay-Z really is the spit and polish on this song. His contribution isn't as prominent as I'd like, but it's arguably perfect.

Thank God I Found You (Feat. Joe & 98 Degrees) is a lovely ballad, although I find the tempo to be a little too slow, not dissimilar to the audible slow down on a cassette walkman just as the batteries were beginning to fail.

We Belong Together is a solid pop tune, but I wonder, again, if this song is worthy of a career perspective album.

Don't Forget About Us is in a similar category to We Belong Together. It's good, but perhaps not great.

Touch My Body is one of Carey's newer songs that I truly enjoy. A great song with a great beat.

Infinity is, of course, the only new song to appear on this career perspective release. It isn’t bad and fits in well with the other tracks on the compilation. That said, I feel it’s overproduced and Carey's vocal tracking could have been stronger as her vocal range isn't well represented on this song.

Like many greatest hit albums, length is an issue and I find after the 79-minute duration has elapsed, I'm ready to listen to something else. That said, while listening to #1 To Infinity, I thoroughly enjoy it and don’t for a moment regret picking it up on vinyl.

The song choice for the North American edition is well-considered, but I do miss Without You and that incredible duet with Luther Vandross; Endless Love. Both are included on the International release of the album. At least we didn't get the campy All I Want For Christmas Is You, although it is included on the Japanese edition if you’re a fan of that song.

Sonically, the vinyl pressing is full bodied with a warmth that will appeal to analogue aficionados. If you’re interested in picking up the vinyl release, a download code is also included and the mastering, while not confirmed, sounds identical to the vinyl release, minor the unique analogue sound of course. Overall, the pressing is very quiet, with almost no surface noise, ensuring headphone listening is enjoyable. It’s truly worth owning for fans of Mariah Carey’s music.

#1 To Infinity is available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming #1 To Infinity is available on TIDAL Hi-Fiand Apple Music

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Luther Vandross – Songs

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Luther Vandross – Songs

I first became aware of Luther Vandross when I heard, and subsequently purchased, the duet he did with Mariah Carey of Endless Love in 1994. As great as Lionel Richie and Diana Ross are, Carey and Vandross made Endless Love their own in a version that not only payed homage to the original, but in my opinion, surpassed it. Carey’s vocal reach is simply amazing and I hope she eventually returns to the style of music that we heard from her in the early to mid 90s. She very well could have a lasting career that would rival Barbara Streisand’s should she stick with songs like Hero and Endless Love.

While I recall having both the CD single and cassette single, of Endless Love, it is the CD that I recall vividly as it was in its cardboard sleeve that simulated a mini-vinyl sleeve. I would play the CD quite often as it contained an instrumental version of the song, along with three other live, non-album tracks that included Never Too Much, Any Love, and She Won't Talk To Me. To be honest, I can’t recall those additional tracks, but undertaking this post allows me to once again explore music from my past. What I do remember was looking at the back of the sleeve where the cover image of Songs was displayed. I remember telling myself that I must get that album yet, for reasons I cannot recall, the album never came into my possession.

Songs, the album containing Endless Love, has been in my wish list for years. However, the vinyl edition has been out-of-print for 21 years. Yet, I was able to source a brand new, sealed, edition of the record at a reasonable price.

When it arrived by mail this morning, I was filled with tears of joy as I finally had a copy. Adding to the emotion was the knowledge that the copy I had, had been waiting patiently for me to play it some 21 years later. Music collectors will understand the excitement one goes through when we find that album that has eluded us for years.

Yes, you can stream the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi et al, but it isn’t the same and never will be.

As I opened the record, I wasn’t sure what to expect as 21 years is an incredibly long time for a record to be in situ. As I slid the record out of the sleeve, I noticed that the top corner of the inner sleeve was folded over. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as this is a practice that was used during the 90s and the preceding decades. I’ve yet to come across any recently pressed albums that present the sleeve in this manner, so I can only assume it is no longer standard practice. I am led to believe that the folding of the corner was to facilitate easy packaging of the record into the outer sleeve for distribution.

So how does the record sound?

As good as the day it was pressed! There is a little sibilance on the inner grove, but that is common for vinyl. It is not bad, just noticeable. When I upgrade my Ortofon OM10 stylus to the OM20 in the next few weeks, that issue should resolve itself. Of course, there are some artists, such as George Michael, that have naturally occurring sibilance in their vocals. That said, Vandross isn’t one of them.  

The mastering of Songs is spot on and matches the mastering that is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and iTunes. In-fact the quality presented in the Apple Music/iTunes lossy edition is so close to indistinguishable, when compared to TIDAL Hi-Fi and the vinyl edition, that it isn’t funny. Therefore, a Mastered for iTunes edition would be irrelevant as no additional quality can be gained. This also proves that if mastering is done correctly at the studio level, then consistent results should be apparent across all formats. Yes, the vinyl record has the analogue tonality, but seriously the digital editions are remarkably ‘warm’ and inviting with a full sound.    

Thankfully, there has been no remastering carried out on the album and it certainly doesn’t need it. While it is still available on CD, it appears a little more difficult to get hold of as not all retailers have stock, or even the option to order. Hence, I would suggest you pick up a copy sooner, rather than later.

As I was doing some background research for this post, I decided to have a look at Vandross’ discography and I noticed his last album Dance with My Father was released in 2003. Wondering why he had not released an album since then, further research resulted in me learning that that he passed away in 2005 at the age of 54. I was shocked and saddened to learn of his passing. While this may not be news for many of you, it is impossible to keep track of everything related to all artists the one is interested in.

Vandross dedicated his life to his music and subsequently didn’t have a family that his legacy could be left to. Hence, I’m not sure who owns the rights to his music, but while his albums are still available, untouched by greedy corporate music labels, I aim to collect as many as possible before they are gone and the inevitable remastered editions flood the market.

The undeniable truth about Songs is you will hear the classics, made into classics once again, by one of the most talented vocalists in history. Think Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, and Harry Connick Jr. all rolled into one voice and that still doesn’t come close to describing the vocal capabilities of Luther Vandross.

Throughout the hour long album, you will groove, you will sing, and you will want to take your loved one in your arms and dance a private slow dance to the masterpiece that is Endless Love.

Songs like The Impossible Dream are equally magical and while I’m not overly familiar with a number of the tracks presented on side 2, side 1 has Love The One You’re With, Killing Me Softly, Evergreen, Reflections, and Hello; all classic songs that I simply adore. Although, after several plays, songs like Always And Forever, are starting to become classics in my own mind.

Songs simply doesn’t have a b-side. Get a hold of this album and cherish it, I’ve no doubt you will love it. I know I do!  

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