This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):
Listen, I’m not any happier about this whole Mariah Carey situation than anybody else. After all, as a music critic, I look forward to Mariah albums the way movie comics await a Paulie Shore film fest. Easy pickins, you know? Fish in a barrel. But hell, it just ain’t sportin’ to kick a gal when she’s as down and out as Mariah seems to be these days.
And here’s the really ironic part: After listening to her Glitter, I have no reason to put the boots in even if I wanted to. It turns out that Glitter — along with being her first album in a multi-gazillion-dollar deal with Virgin and the soundtrack to the upcoming film of the same name — is also a first for Carey, at least as far as I’m concerned: It’s an album I can sit through without rolling my eyes, gritting my teeth and praying for the sweet caress of death (or at least temporary deafness). In fact, listening to Glitter is — and I’m as shocked as anybody to be saying this — an enjoyable experience. And one that I have even repeated, alone, late at night, in my home. Oh, I feel so dirty.
But dammit, it’s not my fault. It’s Mariah’s. She threw me a curve ball. After putting out a decade-long string of albums filled with syrupy ballads and feather-weight hip-hop — all delivered with overblown diva-style histrionics, as if singing the hell out of second-rate material could somehow compensate for its inherent shlockiness — all of a sudden, on Glitter, Mariah relaxes. Lets her hair down. Stops singing every note like a Star Search finalist doing The Star-Spangled Banner. And damned if she doesn’t end up with her least forced, most appealing album in years, if not her entire career. Though based on early reviews trashing the disc, I suspect I will be alone in that opinion. So be it. I call ’em like I hear ’em.
Part of the appeal seems to be the Prince-influenced ’80s dance vibe that governs much of the disc. Produced by former Time members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the dozen-song disc is heavy on loosely funky, upbeat party numbers like Loverboy (based on a sample of the Cameo classic Candy), I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On (the old Robert Palmer hit penned by Jam and Lewis), Don’t Stop (with a James Brown-ish vocal from Mystikal) and the rap revamp of King Britt’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. The caterwauling ballads that have long been Mariah’s stock in trade are fewer and farther between here. And the ones that do crop up — like the piano-soul stirrers Lead the Way and Reflection — are comparatively restrained and (at least for Carey) almost understated, as if she’s finally figured out that less can be more. Or maybe that after a million hits, she can stop trying to top herself every time she opens her mouth.
That sense of relaxed confidence — of Mariah finally feeling comfortable enough to sit back, enjoy the grooves and let the songs sell themselves — permeates Glitter. And ultimately, it’s what makes it work. Of course, it also makes Carey’s mysterious, much-publicized meltdown all the more unfathomable. Ultimately, I have an even bigger conundrum to deal with, though: I can’t figure out which version of Mariah to root for. The music lover in in me would be happier listening to albums by the new Mariah. But the music critic can’t help but want the old Mariah back — just for the easy pickins, you know?