The media might want to tag Mariah Carey’s imminent “Charmbracelet” as her bid for a pop comeback, but the artist begs to differ.
“To compare a studio recording with a soundtrack recording isn’t fair,” she says, referring to 2001’s Glitter, the Virgin album that accompanied the motion-picture box-office disappointment of the same name. With Nielsen SoundScan registering stateside sales of 557,000 copies, it is the first Carey-related set to miss the million-selling mark. Carey’s previous studio collection, the 2000 Columbia release “Rainbow,” sold 2.9 million copies in the U.S.
“But it’s cool,” she adds. “I’m used to dealing with people who will manipulate facts and situations in order to create juicy copy and meet deadlines.”
Carey does agree that “Charmbracelet” — the first offering from her new Island Def Jam-distributed Monarc label (due Dec. 3 in the U.S. and a day earlier internationally) — marks the start of a fresh chapter, following a period of personal and professional problems.
Last fall, the artist was hospitalized for extreme exhaustion, which was followed by a much-publicized split with Virgin in a reported $28 million contract buyout by parent company EMI Recorded Music. It was a one-two punch that Carey says provided invaluable life lessons.
“First of all, I learned that if people see that you’re willing to work at an inhuman pace, they will push you until you fall down,” she says. “I’ve always been scrappy and willing to do whatever it takes to make things happen. That’s still the case, within reason. But last year, I learned that [I] eventually have to face the fact that I’m not a machine. I’m a human being with emotions and a threshold for exhaustion and pain, just like everyone else. I pushed myself hard, and I worked until I hit the wall.”
She now views her move from Columbia, where she racked up 15 No. 1 hits on The Billboard Hot 100, to Virgin as being “too quick,” despite a strong relationship with then-label president Nancy Berry. “We tried to prepare for the release of a soundtrack in four weeks at a time when the label was going through internal changes,” she says. “It wasn’t terribly realistic, but we tried our best to make it work.”
While the media dined on the details of Carey’s trials and tribulations, the artist concentrated on “getting some much-needed rest” and revisiting her original intention in life-making music.
“I started writing and recording the songs that would later go on this album before I had a deal,” she says. “I needed to be absorbed in the process of making music purely for the sake of expressing myself for a while. There were no deadlines, no pressures. I made music as a means of centering myself after all of the drama I’d endured. I found incredible inner peace and clarity in the creation of these songs.”
The artist’s rejuvenated spirit can be felt throughout “Charmbracelet,” a 15-song opus that is best described as classic Carey. She produced the set with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Randy Jackson, and Jermaine Dupri, as well as up-and-comers 7 Aurelius, Just Black, Dre & Vidal, and Damizza. Joining the artist on various tracks are Jay-Z, Kelly Price, Joe, Ice Cube, and Mack 10, among others.
The set shows Carey combining richly textured pop ballads with earthy, R&B-inflected hip-hop, sewing them together with well-drawn lyrics whose themes dart between romance and self-empowerment. “Each song represents a moment in time,” she says. “Of course, some stories are more obvious than others.”
The delicate “Sunflowers for Alfred Roy” is a mournful elegy for Carey’s father, who died earlier this year. It’s a song that she says she sang only once. “What you hear on the album is the only time I ever sang it straight through. It was too emotional an experience to revisit. I can’t even listen to it in front of other people.”
More uplifting are two of Carey’s favorites: “Subtle Invitation,” with its smooth, swing-jazz inflections, and the gospel-flavored “My Saving Grace.” “These are songs that just brought me such joy to sing,” she says. “They’re not punched in a million times. It’s just me in front of the mike, performing from the heart.”
There also is a complex, string-laden revision of Def Leppard’s “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” which the singer says is an example of her musical diversity. “I love going from showing my Minnie Riperton influences to hip-hop to rock. It’s all me. For ‘Heartbreak,’ it was fun to go back to a song that I loved singing when I was in school. I think we bring some fresh elements to it.”
On the day “Charmbracelet” is released, MTV will air a previously taped special where Carey hosted fans at an album-listening event. The program will also feature an interview with John Norris and a live-performance segment. On the same day, Carey will be the subject of an hour-long interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Other TV upcoming appearances include a BET special and appearances on “Dateline,” “Total Request Live,” and “Larry King Live.” Also, an autograph-signing appearance Dec. 11 at the Mall of America in Minneapolis will be captured live on “Today.”
For Carey, the ultimate element in promoting “Charmbracelet” will be a tour, tentatively planned to start in the spring. “I’ve been dying to sing these songs live,” she says. “It will be exciting to hear them come to life in a new way.”
Most of all, it will be a moment of victory for the singer, who notes that “it’s nice to be in a happy, serene place” after her recent life and career challenges. Still, Carey acknowledges that some of her strongest music has followed difficult times.
“I could not have written this album, which I truly love, without having gone through those hard times. That was the case with my first album, and ‘Butterfly,’ and a few of my other albums. Sometimes, the greatest art comes from pain. It would be nice to not have to go through that, but I’m growing to accept that life is full of bumps in the road. The gratifying part is when you can come out on the other side tougher and wiser — and with some great songs.”
Excerpted from the Dec. 7, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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