Music Box is the fourth album and third studio album by American singer Mariah Carey, released in the United States on August 31 1993 by Columbia Records. The release of the album marked the beginning of Music Box Era.
Carey co-wrote and co-produced all of the tracks on the album, her co-writers/producers being Walter Afanasieff, Clivilles & Cole, and Babyface.
It is largely composed of ballads such as "Hero" and "Anytime You Need a Friend", with a few up-tempo songs including "Now That I Know" and "I've Been Thinking About You". Carey was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for lead single "Dreamlover" at the 1994 Grammy Awards, losing to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."
Music Box entered the U.S. Billboard 200 chart at number two and ascended to number one fifteen weeks after its release, where it stayed for eight non-consecutive weeks. It remained in the top twenty for forty weeks and on the Billboard 200 for 128 weeks (more than two and half years), making three separate re-entries.
It also topped Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts and proved to be a huge success worldwide, reaching number one in the UK, Australia and Japan. It was certified ten times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in November 1997, making it Carey's first diamond-selling album. It is her most successful album to date worldwide, and has sold around 32 million copies.
Music Box yielded Carey's seventh and eighth U.S. number-one singles: "Dreamlover" and "Hero". "Dreamlover" spent eight weeks at number one and has become one of Carey's most popular songs to date, continuing the trend of all Carey's debut singles from each studio album topping the U.S. charts (which would last until the turn of the decade). "Hero" spent four weeks at number one, and has arguably become one of Carey's best known works.
The album's third and fourth singles, "Without You" (a cover of the Badfinger song) and "Anytime You Need a Friend" were slightly less successful in the U.S. The former did not reach number one but it became Carey's first single to top the UK charts and was very successful worldwide, while "Anytime You Need a Friend" failed to make the U.S. top ten (Carey's first single to do so).
In 1988, Carey was discovered by Tommy Mottola, CEO of Columbia Records, and was promptly signed to the label. Carey's self-titled debut studio album, released the following year, focused on re-recording and mastering several songs she had already written in high school alongside classmate, Ben Margulies.
Aside from the seven songs taken from Carey's demo tape, four other tracks were written and produced by the former and an array of famed record producers. The album was complimented by critics, who called it a mature debut, full of various genre influences ranging from pop, R&B and soul.
The album became a commercial success, selling over twenty million units globally. While making a strong impact on pop music, Carey became interested in altering her sound, and deviating from pop music for her second studio effort, "Emotions." Following the success of her debut, Columbia allowed her to take more control over her musical departure, enabling her to change her genre infusions, melodies and production. During the album's recording, Carey worked with several different musicians and producers, aside from Walter Afanasieff, the only hold over from her debut.
"Emotions" contained influences from mostly 1950s, 1960s and 1970s balladry and gospel, as well as her continued work of R&B and soul. The album, while praised by some as more mature and raw, failed to reach the critical or commercial heights of her debut effort, while selling far less and failed to introduce Carey into a different market.
Following these events, Columbia decided to try to market Carey in a similar fashion to her debut, only having her produce a more commercial and radio-friendly album. Their plans were to tone down Carey's vocals, and soften the album's production, leaving a more contemporary pop/R&B record.
Agreeing to the change, Carey and Afanasieff began writing and recording material for her third studio effort, "Music Box." On the album's first track, "Dreamlover", Carey worked with Dave Hall throughout the song's entire production. In order to help with some of the song's arrangements, Mottola enrolled the help of Walter Afanasieff, who took on the completed track and transformed it into a more commercial hit.
With Carey in the captain's chair, having more control than she had on any other album, she took the album in a new direction, alongside Afanasieff. For Carey's third studio effort, she enrolled the help of a range of songwriters, as well as record producers Aside from Afanasieff, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, a man who would collaborate with Carey often in the near future, also took part in the project.
Babyface, who helped produce much of the album, also co-wrote a track with Carey titled "Never Forget You", a song that was released as a B-side to "Without You" exclusively in the United States.
The album, which consisted mostly of slower ballads (with the exception of "Dreamlover" and "Now That I Know"), contained collaborations with some carry-on producers and writers from "Emotions." Of these were Clivillés & Cole (of C+C Music Factory), who co-wrote the track "Now That I Know", a danceable pop ballad, which used similar formulas and synthesizers from tracks on Emotions. Another writer–producer that worked on the album was David Hall, who with Carey wrote the U.S. single "Dreamlover."
One of the noticeable differences from Music Box and Carey's previous albums was its sound. The album was described by Afanasieff as a softer and more pop-oriented album, "filling the songs with air" and allowing far more space in the overall sound. Another noticeable change was in the album's production.
When Mariah Carey was released, critics took notice of its "overly produced" and "studio perfect" quality, where in comparison, "Emotions" maintained a "raw, live sound." Music Box however, fell in between the two, a decision made by Carey during the album's production. She would layer each track with live backing vocals, so not to sound too overly produced, but still kept the inclusion of musical synthesizers.
Upon release, the album received mixed reviews from critics, with positive attention given to its lyrics. The album's energy level and Carey's vocal style, however, were almost unanimously criticized. Critics felt Carey became "too mellow" and "somewhat lazy" on the album, especially in comparison to her previous work, with Ron Wynn writing, "sometimes excessive spirit is preferable to an absence of passion."
Bill Lamb from About.com gave the album a generally positive review, calling it "another good collection of dance music and ballads" and writing that "the songwriting is generally high quality, and Nilsson's 'Without You' is a good choice for a cover."
On a more critical note, however, Lamb described the album as a "toned down" album, and that Carey's upper registers aren't accessed as often as in previous releases, writing, "Mariah toned down the vocal gymnastics here, but she seemed to lose a lot of her energy as well. There are still strong songs here, but the overall effect is of a formula wearing a bit thin."
Ron Wynn from Allmusic gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, Roc Wynn of Allmusic said that Carey's "octave-leaping" voice was downplayed in favor of the demonstration of "her ability to sing softly and coolly."
Although favorably stating that Carey lowered the volume on her vocals, he said that the energy had declined, with the exception of personality-injected songs like "Hero" and "Dreamlover." Overall, however, he claimed the album's "different" approach was wise.
Ashley S. Battel from Billboard gave the album a positive review, writing, "While Carey tones down the predominance of her tremendous vocal range throughout much of this release, there is no question that she remains the driving force behind yet anoth[e]r collection of heavy-rotation Top-40 successes."
David Browne from Entertainment Weekly gave the album a mixed review. He said that due to Carey's lower energy level, her voice no longer soars above the backup chorus, instead it only "drip[s] over them like syrup instead of overpowering them; she lets the melodies speak for themselves." Browne awarded the album an unenthusiastic score of C+.
Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone complimented Carey's vocals, but found her lyrics "made up entirely of pop and soul clichés" and stated: "Music Box is so precisely calculated to be a blockbuster that its impact is ultimately a little unnerving."
However, in his review for The New York Times, Holden wrote that the album "takes aim at the commercial pop mainstream with an even sharper focus" than Carey's previous albums, while noting: "If huge ballads like 'Hero,' 'Anytime You Need a Friend' and a gospel-flavored remake of Harry Nilsson's 1971 hit, 'Without You,' traffic in pop cliches, they are the top-of-the-line in generic 90's pop." In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave the album a "dud" rating, indicating "a bad record whose details rarely merit further thought."
In a retrospective review, "The New Rolling Stone Album Guide" noted a "soft-rock slump" and stated: "While there's nothing wrong with Carey singing relatively straight for 10 songs, there is a sore lack of power here: baleful soaring ballads, pop optimism along the lines of smiling through the tears and believing in yourself (or him, or Him), and hardly a decent tune in the lot."
Track listing and credits
- U.S. edition (Released on August 31, 1993. All songs co-written and co-produced by Mariah Carey; names of other writers and/or producers are in brackets.)
- "Dreamlover" (Dave Hall, Afanasieff) — 3:53
- "Hero" (Afanasieff) — 4:19
- "Anytime You Need a Friend" (Afanasieff) — 4:25
- "Music Box" (Afanasieff) — 4:57
- "Now That I Know" (Robert Clivillés, David Cole) — 4:19
- "Never Forget You" (Babyface, Daryl Simmons) — 3:46
- "Without You" (Ham, Evans) — 3:36
- "Just to Hold You Once Again" (Afanasieff) — 3:59
- "I've Been Thinking About You" (Clivillés, Cole) — 4:48
- "All I've Ever Wanted" (Afanasieff) — 3:51
- Non-U.S. edition
|U.S||1 (8 weeks)|
|New Zealand||1 (13 weeks)|
|Netherlands||1 (12 weeks)|
|Austria||1 (11 weeks)|
|Germany||1 (11 weeks)|
|UK||1 (6 weeks)|
|Switzerland||1 (1 week)|
|August 31, 1993 • 42:01 • Columbia Records|
|Released||All I've Ever Wanted • Anytime You Need a Friend • Dreamlover • Hero • I've Been Thinking About You • Just to Hold You Once Again • Music Box • Never Forget You • Without You|
|Bonus||Everything Fades Away • Heroe • Do You Think Of Me|
|Music Box Tour|