Own It or Disown It: #282: Mariah Carey, Butterfly

OwnItorDisownIt

The beloved singer's sixth album turned twenty years old this month.

We’re reaching a point in our (well, at least Western) culture where anyone can like anything and not get a sideways glance about it. There was a time in writing for Earbuddy where there was novelty in me, a white dude from New England, being a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan; now, I’m late to the party for waiting to pick up Get Out on Blu-ray instead of seeing it in theaters. With this breakdown in barriers comes the realization that these barriers existed in the first place, which I hope is sufficient explanation for why it’s taken until this past week for me to give a Mariah Carey album the time of day. She’s one of the greatest singers of our time that I shouldn’t listen to because I’m a guy and she’s crazy or something, I no longer give a shit, show me what you got, gurrrrrl.

Actually, there is another reason I’ve hesitated to give Mimi a chance, and that has to do with my disposition against what I perceived to be her bread’n’butter. I have nothing against R&B, mind, just the sort of R&B that really blew up in the late 80s through early 90s, pulseless slow jams with a painfully personal slant meant to show off the vocalist’s pipes . I recognize there’s an audience for that sort of thing, but as I’ve made clear in talking about The Mars Volta, an exhibition of technical skill has no effect on me if there’s nothing for the listener to latch onto. Sure, somebody has to be making songs to awkwardly slowdance to at school functions as well as play over credits of kiddie films to prod the crotch dumplings out of the theater a little faster, but I don’t understand why these songs needed to be unleashed on an unwilling public.

These sort of tracks make up Butterfly’s worst moments. The title track gets a clean pass from me as it serves as a life-affirming mission statement of accepting change that plays well even as it embraces its corniness—“So spread your wings and fly”, bye bye Li’l Sebastian, we’ll miss you in the saddest fashion. Less successful are “My All” and “Fourth of July”, the former a painfully lame love song that has no business being sequenced right after “Butterfly” and the latter being…a slow jam to play while you’re getting busy on Independence Day? These are songs that try to push the emphasis of rhythm out of R&B, and they register to me as comically inept.

The rest of Butterfly, at worst, still manages to acquit itself. You don’t need me to tell you that Carey is a fantastic vocalist, but what’s admirable is how many risks are taken with the overall sound here. “The Roof” turns the sinister backbone of Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” into a slick party jam, while “Breakdown” sees a couple of members of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony do what they do on almost every song they touch. The remainder of the considerable number of ballads, too, maintain enough rhythm to give the feet something to work with. This is an album that generates enough goodwill to get away with a Prince cover near the end.

I’m not blown away by Butterfly, but I think there’s plenty enough good stuff here to give it a recommendation. I’ll cop to not being disposed in favor of this sort of music, but even I was won over thanks to its likable nature and (mostly) strong compositions. I can see how someone could call this their favorite album of all time, and I’d not argue against them too hard. I mean, I’d argue against them, but I’m an asshole.

VERDICT: OWN

Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.

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