Review Summary: The cloying wordplay and aside, Merry Christmas Part Two is an album that doesn't need all the trickery as it is as straightforward as a Mariah Carey album as one could find and what a joy it is to finally witness her sing.
'For the nostalgia' is a catch phrase Mariah Carey is trying to make happen. It is up there with her favorite words, 'bleak' and 'festive', which you can bet she's also trying to make happen. She almost succeeds in making 'festive' happen and it almost does.
Since promoting her 13th studio album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, Mariah has been making constant reminders that her vocal chords are still the formidable instrument that they've always been, even after more than a decade of dabbling into Auto-tuned pop derivatives and rapper-of-the-moment-assisted R&B jams, by still making the inevitable and obligatory power ballads that necessitate the inevitable shriekfests. And Memoirs served mainly to do that, it being the closest she gets to a ballad-heavy album that does not recoil from the type of schmaltz that could have turned off casual observers of her music. The efforts almost certainly point to the conclusion that Mariah Carey, arguably the biggest star of the 90s, is trying to make the 90s happen. Like Gretchen Wieners and 'fetch' , sadly, Memoirs and the 90s Mariah revival didn't happen.
The future looks bleak for 'festive', but 'for the nostalgia' looks like it has promise thanks to Merry Christmas II You, her second Christmas album, and second most ridiculous album title next to E=MC2. If Memoirs tried to summon the ghost of the old Mariah that balanced hip-hop and gooey balladry, Merry Christmas Part 2 isn't such a terrible way to round the nostalgia craze.
Comparisons to Merry Christmas Part 1 are expected and how could it not: she remakes the overpraised jingle, All I Want for Christmas is You, touted as Extra Festive (Exhibit A), she tucks in a live performance of Oh Holy Night, one of MC1's greatest moments, she rewrites another original and children's choir-backed ballad, One Child, which echoes the mood of Part 1's Jesus Born in this Day, and most pronouncedly, she attempts in all earnestness to recreate another classic via Oh Santa! which in its efforts to achieve All I Want for Christmas Is You levels of canonization, people are going to find much reason to be cynical about, pleasing and joyful though it may actually be. She basically redoes almost everything that made the first one work and peppers the sequel with what she perceives is going be more... festive. Cynicism aside, Mariah, undoubtedly in possession of a 12-year old's mindset, aims relentlessly to please and mostly succeeds.
Probably unforeseeable to her, though, is the pleasure brought by the stroke of genius that is the duet with her mother, Patricia Carey, in a majestic rendition of Oh Come All Ye Faithful, which serves as the album's piece de resistance: it is a song in her entire catalog that never for a moment seemed like it was meant to be for a purpose other than to show how remarkable the human voice can be, especially if one is gifted with the right set of DNA. Mariah sounds most interesting when her once pristine voice betrays its age, when it shows signs of wear out. Not until her voice broke in 2003's Charmbracelet's has there been any visible evidence that Mariah Carey has soul. The cloying wordplay and aside, Merry Christmas Part Two is an album that doesn't need all the trickery as it is as straightforward as a Mariah Carey album as one could find and what a joy it is to finally witness her sing.
While it is quite shocking for bestselling artists to not only not to sell in the millions but to also fail so miserably, what is even more shocking and lamentable is when an artist tries extra hard by recouping old formula in an age in music that never seemed that much charitable to aging and anything that has to do with oldness, which is what Carey seems to be doing since E=MC2, which ever so valiantly emulated The Emancipation of Mimi, with varying but mostly interesting results, and in the aforementioned Memoirs which wished it were Butterfly but isn't, but which turned out to be a showcase for an even more balanced hip-hop and octaves count-defying Mariah. By now you would have thought that she has already wisened up, probably already in the mindset of Screw sales figures and Billboard. But no. Whether her recent work is testament to the quality or deterioration of her future releases as indicated and commanded by her Billboard ratings of late, one can only hope the diva transcends all the pressure that typically should not afflict 12 year-olds. Until then, enjoy the 12-year old Mariah this season.