Live Pop: Mariah Carey Wembley Arena London

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The Independent Culture
On one side of London last weekend, the Sex Pistols were indulging their egos with a ridiculous side-show of bloated excess. But compared to Mariah Carey, who was performing in another part of town, barely able to last out a song without changing her costume or telling us how happy she was to be in England, the Pistols were a picture of minimalism and restraint.

For Carey, too much is never enough. She has sold 75 million albums, and could be relied upon to squeeze roughly that amount of notes into a simple rendition of, say, the Going For Gold theme song. Yet on Sunday, she revealed an uncharacteristic sense of economy by playing a single UK show (her first) and punching the clock before the second hour was up. Brevity was the only thing to be grateful for.

You get the feeling she doesn't get out much. She's professional enough to know how to patronise an audience - she waved an England scarf or sipped tea between songs, or slipped into a Cockney accent almost as fraudulent as Damon Albarn's - but her excruciating social ineptness betrays the fact that she is surrounded by people whose Christmas bonuses hinge on how hard they laugh at her gags. Those overblown anthems of eternal love might reek of Hollywood, but Carey's patter is straight out of Stepford. Even a humdrum routine such as introducing the band left her flummoxed. "This is Randy Jackson - Jesse's nephew. No, not really! Sometimes I say he's Michael Jackson's cousin, too - for a joke." How can anyone say this woman has no sense of humour?

But nobody paid pounds 30 a ticket to marvel at her wit. They came for that voice. And she didn't disappoint. At least not if you think subtlety and understatement are weaknesses. Her six-octave range is undeniably impressive, but there's no grace in the way she employs it. Her style, like her stage set of platforms and chandeliers and gilded elevators, is hideously overdressed; those enormous, cumbersome songs, "Hero" and "One Sweet Day" and "Without You" threatened to collapse at any moment under the weight of her arrangements, like Christmas trees crippled by too many baubles. There was an exception - "Vision of Love", a seductive and elegant piece of fluff which could not even be ruined when Carey chose to reflect its descending melody by swishing down a staircase as she sang. The rest? Pretty vacant.

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