ARTIST: Mariah Carey
TITLE: “I Want To Know What Love Is”
WEB DEBUT: Aug. 27, 2009
ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: In the earliest parts of her career, Mariah Carey did well with covers; her version of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” was a chart-topper
, and her top-notch take on the Yuletide classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has remained a holiday staple since its 1994 release. [EDIT: Well, it's just convincing retro pastiche! Ugh, too early.] But since the early ’90s the musical landscape, particularly for Big Pop Artists, has changed a lot. So the question that lingers now is a big one, and one that Island Def Jam is hoping will be answered with “yes”: Will a big, ballady cover of a song made popular 25 years ago—Foreigner’s humongo gospel-tinged ballad “I Want To Know What Love Is”—shock America into caring en masse about a musical artist the way that it did back in the day?
It’s a question that this piano-heavy version of “I Want To Know What Love Is” actually hedges. Mariah’s vocal delivery for most of the song is the restrained, breathy whisper that she’s employed to great effect in the post-Glitter era—it barely opens up on the chorus until the second time through, which is surprising because it renders the overall effect sort of flat at first. Things get better a bit on the second run-through—you can actually hear the heartbreak and pain that she’s singing about—and carry through that way until the very end of the song, when the gear-shift key change kicks in, and the gospel choir swoops down from the heavens, and Mariah’s even playing with the trademark octave-leaping that set her out from the diva pack all the way at the beginning of her career. Whether radio will jump on this or not is a crapshoot, though–it seems too slow for Top 40 radio, too new for the notoriously sclerotic Adult Contemporary formats that still have the original in heavy rotation. I can see it sliding right into the playlist of New York R & B station Kiss 98.7—which, it should be noted, isn’t afraid to put some gospel tracks into heavy rotation.
Mariah Carey – I Want To Know What Love Is 2009 [YouTube]
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