Both Mariah Carey's strength and her weakness his that she exists in her own bubble, impervious to change. Trends come and go but Mariah remains Mariah. Her blend of bubblegum pop and R&B never feels particularly current but it also never ages. A reminder of a bygone age but a time period that cannot be placed. Rainbow, Mariah's 1999 masterpiece, is peak Carey.
It marked the end of her first imperial phrase. Rainbow was Mariah's first album in years to not top the charts and proceeded the trauma that was Glitter, and arrived long before the career and artistic rebirth of The Emancipation of Mimi. The production credits and guest spots read like a who's-who of 1999. At this point she was untouchable. With one of the most lucrative recording contracts of all time and comfortably into her songwriting groove, she was making the kind of music she should have been releasing her whole career.
Mariah has always been keen to stress her credentials as a songwriter and Rainbow is evidence that strongly supports her case - a well-crafted balance of her signature ballads with sparky R&B jams. Lyrically the tracks are breezy but intensely relatable, a formula that was most successfully deployed by Motown. Despite her incredible riches, success and vocal prowess - Mariah writes from a perspective that we all understand. This isn't a record about the pains of being famous but about love, being a woman. There is also an archness to her music that often goes unheralded. Take lead single "Heartbreaker" its lyrics juxtaposed with the bounciest of beats.
Mariah, and many others, consider 1997's Butterfly to be her finest work. Moving away from the middle-of-the-road tracks that typified her early work, she began working with younger hip-hop producers. Butterfly is finessed and marked a new chapter but it lacks the fun of Rainbow which, as Mariah records go, borders on the spontaneous.
Rainbow isn't an artistic statement. It isn't the study of an artist and we learn next to nothing about Mariah (although there are some rare glimpses into her psyche following her split from Tommy Mottola). But that isn't why we love her. Mariah always serves up exactly what you need.
There has been flashes of genius since but it's notable that some of her best tracks would fit perfectly on this album. The inspired "#Beautiful" ft. Miguel captures that sense of joie de vie that permeates and typifies Rainbow. It's an album that is incapable of ageing, so unrelentingly universal that it becomes timeless.