Revisiting Mariah Carey’s Butterfly album

I swear, it was all a coincidence. My current Mariah Carey nostalgia started even before the news that she was going to be judge on the next season of American Idol. It started with this tweet from Karrots. It struck a chord with me because I feel exactly the same way. Pre-Nick Canon, pre-Glitter, Missy-Eliott-and-P.-Diddy-collaborating MC was pretty awesome, especially when you consider what Mariah is like now.  Then one of my friends posted the music video for Breakdown on Facebook, and I have since been on a Mariah Carey nostalgia trip.

I remember being in high school and listening to the album Butterfly on my Sony Walkman day in, day out. I played it so much that the track list and album name printed on the side of the plastic of the cassette tape (yes, I am old) was chipping away already. And fifteen years (!!!) since its release, I still think it’s Mariah’s best album.

The singles were fantastic. Honey, Butterfly and My All were all hits. And Breakdownwhile not as big of commercial success as the other singles (it was on limited release), is now widely considered an iconic, career-changing record for Mariah. Apart from Breakdown, though, the singles were not the standouts of the album for me.

Fourth of July is sweet, dreamy and romantic. It is a about a shy first encounter while watching fireworks and holding hands during a rain shower, after all. Yes, it has chimes and birds chirping and Mariah practically whispering throughout the song, but the bass, the great bridge towards the end gives Fourth just enough edge to contrast with the overall airiness of the rest of the arrangement.

For The Beautiful Ones, there’s an entirely different mood and feel. Dru Hill (where are they now, anyway?) makes a guest appearance in this very R&B driven track about how “the beautiful ones hurt you every time”. Despite that line, the lyrics on this song aren’t the best, but Mariah’s and Sisqo’s (let’s face it, Dru Hill is Sisqo) vocals more than make up for the lackluster lyrics. Their voices take the song from loneliness, to yearning, to something akin to anger, then ending in a sort of bittersweet sadness. Mariah and Sisqo sound so good together, listening to the song made me actually miss Sisqo’s voice. Yep. As in the guy who sang this.

My favorite song from Butterfly is my favorite Mariah Carey song EVER and probably one of my favorite songs EVER. Period. The Roof, about a romantic encounter on a rooftop (duh) on a rainy night (apparently I like songs that involve rain), is melodic, sexy and beautifully written. I think it strikes a perfect combination of the heavy, edgier R&B influence that is all over Butterfly and Mariah’s more romantic inclinations. MC’s vocals are also on point in this song. There’s none of the excessive belting and trilling that she’s known for and does so much of in her more recent work. Make no mistake, she still hits the high notes in The Roof, but she does so with restraint, and the result is beautiful.

I’m very happy, then, that that tweet from Karrots brought on this sudden wave of nostalgia for not just for my favorite version of Mariah Carey, but the music she made during that time as well, some of which are arguably the best of her career. Now if only we could get the old Mariah back…