1991. It was only the 2nd year into the 1990s, and yet already Mariah Carey had proved herself to be music's most shining new star of the decade. Her self-titled debut album would not only end up being the most successful LP of the US that same year, but also had scored a record breaking 4 #1 singles-the most ever from a debut release. More than that, but her phenomenal vocal talent, beauty and song writing abilities, were more than enough to make Mariah a firm rival to both the likes of Whitney Houston and Madonna for the accolade of being the biggest female solo artist in the industry.
The commercial (as well as critical) appeal of Mariah Carey plus her craft and passion for song writing, meant that her record label Sony, were far from going to be wasting time on creating a follow up record. Having proved herself so much already, Carey was given the freedom by the label to create pretty much the album she wanted. Ironically, this would be the amongst the very few times that turbulent period, that would prove to be the case...
Inspired by primarily gospel, balladry and soul music of the 50s, 60s and 70s, this second studio album, was thus quite a contrast to Mariah Carey an album heavily reeking of the late 1980s. That was not the only thing that was different. Having already more than proved that she was a voice to rival Houston, Mariah felt even more confident to push her vocal range further than ever before. As a result, this 2nd album is perhaps her strongest and boldest on record. And that 2nd album would of course be, Emotions...
Having had a fall out with her previous main collaborator on Mariah Carey , Ben Margulies, Mariah was thus at least free to write produce with other people. Some of the most talented and creative writers and producers of both then and of times before it, would help create Emotions. Most notably, these would be Robert Clivillés and David Cole, Carol King, and above all, Walter Afanasieff, the man who would go on to be the main Carey collaborator throughout the decade, helping create some of her biggest and iconic hits in the process.
Emotions, would go on to be released on 17th September 1991. In the light of the chart topping, multi-platinum predecessor, plus the title track too going to #1 on the US Hot 100 weeks earlier, it was expected that things would follow a similar direction. As it was, Emotions slightly failed to meet expectations. It peaked at #4 on the US Hot 200 (much to the surprise of many), and would become Carey's lowest charting studio album until 2001. It's total US sales also fell short compared to Mariah Carey, going in at "just" 4x platinum, compared to the near Diamond status of her debut. Worldwide, it proved to be much of the same thing, although Emotions managed to actually outperform and out sale her first effort in the UK peaking at #4 compared to the #6 peak of Mariah Carey. All 3 singles lifted from the LP, also all became UK top 20 hits. These being the infectious retro Disco groove Emotions (UK #17), haunting ballad and my personal favourite Carey moment, Can't Let Go (UK #20) and finally, Make It Happen, easily the most empowering anthem she has ever made. (UK #17). Compare this with Mariah's first era, where she had scored one sole UK top 10 hit with her debut singe Vision Of Love (UK#9) and two low near end top 40 follow ups with Love Takes Time (UK #37) and Someday (UK #38). In her native US however, the Emotions singles run was deemed slightly disappointing compared to the 4-chart topping run of her debut. In contrast, Emotions spawned a sole #1 hit, and even the #2 and #5 peaks respectively of follow ups Can't Let Go and Make It Happen deemed amazingly to be a disappointment.
In light of all this, the Emotions era was sadly cut all too short and was all over by Summer 1992. By then, she had just achieved another career defining moment with her now iconic MTV Unplugged set, with the lead single from it, I'll Be There (live cover of the Jackson 5 classic), duly becoming her 6th US #1 in the process, as well as then by far her highest charting and selling UK single where it peaked only one place lower at #2. Later that year, Carey was quickly ushered back into the studio to record her 3rd studio album, Music Box. This time however, Sony took the reins more (even in Mariah's voice), with the follow up becoming a much more restrained pop/adult contemporary fayre-and duly her biggest selling album in process with sales of over 25 million worldwide to date compared to the 8 million selling Emotions.
3 decades on, and many more albums under her belt since, Emotions still feels like the most underrated and at times underappreciated album of Mariah Carey's long career. She's had albums that's sold more and albums that have sold even less. Yet Emotions always seems to just fit inside the middle. Shame too. This is an album of a young woman at the very height of her craft with all that enthusiasm just shining through. 30 years later, that only shines and sparkles more than ever.