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Mariah Carey’s first Christmas album, ‘Merry Christmas’, is widely regarded as one of the best Holiday-themed collections of the last 20 years. Comprising some of her most impressive vocal performances and the now classic ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, the record managed to be a top seller every year since being released in 1994.
Fast-forward exactly 16 years, to a time when Carey’s career is at a commercial standstill, and the diva finally delivers a followup in the form of ‘Merry Christmas II You’. Facing widespread speculation that her time at the top of the Pop roost is over and her famed 5 octave vocal range has faded into memory, Carey manages to do what she does best: prove her critics wrong. In fact, this 13-track LP almost achieves the impossible – matching its predecessor.Array
Carey and her newest production partner, Marc Shaiman, introduce the listeners to the general sound of the album with a soothing live orchestra on ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Intro)’ which flows seamlessly into the project’s uptempo lead single, ‘Oh Santa’. Surprisingly, the Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michal Cox-produced track is actually the least impressive song on the album. Although it is framed by radio-friendly rhythms and a catchy melody, the song seems almost childish compared to the other records and features Carey’s most basic vocal performance (not including the high note extravaganza at the end).
Cox and Dupri contribute to only one other song on the collection – the 80’s Hip-Hop-flavoured ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’/’Housetop Celebration’. Sporting heavy beats and a throbbing bass guitar, this song captures the infectious energy of a Holiday house party while sampling Chic’s ‘Good Times’. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Carey album without a clever sample.
Nonetheless, where Carey truly shines is on the only duet included on the entire LP, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’/’Hallelujah Chorus’ which features her mother, the elusive Patricia Carey. This is probably the first time that most people have heard the Opera singer on record and, without a doubt, she delivers. The duo’s vocals soar gloriously on the James ‘Big Jim’ Wright and Randy Jackson-crafted masterpiece, climaxing with a powerful combination of choir, instruments and high-octave belting. This is the gem of the album.
Unlike Carey’s last two releases, however, her signature vocal acrobatics are in ample supply, especially on the new songs that she penned herself. From the thunderous belting of ‘One Child’ and ‘When Christmas Comes’ – co-written by her ‘Mine Again’ collaborator, James Poyser – to the Nat King Cole-influenced ‘Christmas Time Is In The Air Again’, Carey displays her mastery of melody and voice, mixing Jazz and Gospel for incredible results.
Carey even finds a way to revamp her recurring hit ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ with a lush new intro, a plethora of high notes and heartier production. Indeed, she manages to bring new life to the modern standard without degrading its core structure.
The only song that almost defeats Carey’s purpose is her impeccable rendition of ‘Oh Holy Night’ which was recorded live in 2000 at the Los Angeles’ WPC. The track acts as a benchmark against which listeners can judge the differences in her voice over the years; comparing her now somewhat thinner vocals to the robust and effortless belting of her youth. Hence, it might have been a wise decision to omit this song altogether.
Still, in the end, ‘Merry Christmas II You’ is easily the most impressive body of work Carey has put forward since 2005’s ‘The Emancipation of Mimi’. Combining Pop, Jazz, Gospel, R&B and even Hip-Hop, she proves once again why is considered one of the most prolific artists that the industry has ever seen. Her stunning rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne (The New Year’s Anthem)’ serves as a possible metaphor of things to come as she ends the collection on dramatic high note, looking to the future with Shaiman – her new muse – and a new year of possibilities ahead. Merry Christmas!