Carey’s last truly great album to date.
Daryl Easlea 2011
Butterfly was Mariah Carey’s sixth album and the one where she departed from the formula that had been established on her breakthrough single, 1990’s Vision of You. The album was released after Carey’s much-publicised split with her husband and mentor, Tommy Mottola, the then-president of Sony Music Entertainment. At the time of the album’s release, Carey told the Los Angeles Times: "At this point, I feel free enough to express what I’m really feeling, without using a smokescreen… It’s definitely an evolution for me." This evolution meant that there would be a greater acknowledgment of her urban and hip hop influences and the last time that she worked significantly with her original producer, Walter Afanasieff, who had given her signature, ballad-heavy sound.
As a result, Butterfly is Carey’s last truly great album to date. The main singles, Honey and My All (both US chart-toppers), demonstrate the record’s two approaches. The former is produced by Puff Daddy and his team, with programming by Q-Tip. It’s a breezy, street-savvy sound, partially based on the melody from Hey DJ by The World’s Famous Supreme Team and Treacherous Three’s The Body Rock. It gives new life to Carey’s vocals, and for once her performance is relatively restrained, as she sounds positively engrossed in the material. My All, on the other hand, is written and produced by Carey with Afanasieff. It encapsulates her more traditional, straight ballad approach with Latin overtones. Across Butterfly, these styles meld together effortlessly.
However, the real joy is in the relatively dreamy down-tempo vibe of the remainder of the album. The Roof, produced by the then lava-hot Poke & Tone production duo, is probably the best example of this floating, ethereal soul. Featuring a sample of Shook Ones Part II by Mobb Deep, it updates the woozy soul of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear. Breakdown features two of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, adding their rolling beats to Carey’s melisma-rich vocal. Also surprising is the almost karaoke version of Prince’s Purple Rain showstopper The Beautiful Ones, here presented as a powerful duet with Dru Hill.
Of course, being a Carey album, there is some requisite showboating (Whenever You Call, Outside), but judicious programming makes Butterfly a real treat, and comes recommended to those Carey doubters who have never strayed beyond her singles.