Ranking the Best Mariah Carey Albums

In case you needed a reminder of the universal appeal of Mariah Carey’s music, my wife comes home with the receipts.

As I was literally working on this post, Mrs. Soul In Stereo strolled in from the grocery store to tell me what she witnessed:

“‘Always Be My Baby” was just playing in the store,” she said. “And everyone was singing along – adults, kids, all races.”

Mariah can be a pretty easy target for Internet slander these days, thanks to the constant drama, reality-show hijinks and disastrous New Year’s Eve performances. But one thing no one will ever take from Mariah is her ability to make music that transcends cultural barriers and shatters sales records. Her voice has helmed some of the biggest songs in R&B and pop history.

Today, let’s look back at the albums that made her an icon.

Let’s revisit Mariah’s legendary discography, ranking them from bottom to top. This list will exclude her greatest hits, Christmas and live albums and will stick to her studio LPs.

Take a look back at the songs that still have us singing in unison almost 30 years later.

glitter

12. Glitter (2001)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: Good lord, let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? Mariah’s infamous 2001 film was hilariously awful – seriously, go back and watch it, it’s the most unintentionally funny travesty to make the big screen. The soundtrack, though, lacked the film’s, um, unique charms. Glitter wound up as a mostly forgettable collection of 80s-themed tracks but a handful of them are worth a listen.

Forgotten favorites: “Want You,” “All My Life,” “Loverboy (Remix)”

memoirs

11. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (2009)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: On one hand, this album was unfairly overlooked as Mariah’s silly feud with Eminem overshadowed its release. On the other, fans didn’t really miss out on a lot anyway. There were several strong offerings scattered throughout (“Up Out My Face” remains a guilty pleasure) but the set was just a little too bloated and uneven to reach the next level.

Forgotten favorites: “H.A.T.E.U.,” “Up Out My Face,” “Angels Cry”

me i am mariah

10. Me. I Am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse (2014)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: After taking a half-decade off to experience the joys of motherhood, MC roared back in 2014 with renewed focus and yet another weirdo album title. Despite a couple of head-turning singles that raised anticipation for the release, the finished product suffered from the same fate as the previous imperfect memoir – great songs lost in a bloated, uneven package. This one has gone on to become something of a fan favorite in recent years and that’s cool – it’s not a bad release but it could have been so much better.

Forgotten favorites: “Make It Look Good,” “Camouflage,” “Faded”

charmbracelet

9. Charmbracelet (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: After the previous year’s Glitter fiasco, Mariah quickly returned to right the wrongs of the prior effort. The result was Charmbracelet, which felt much more true to Mariah’s core sound. Big ballads, aching love songs, hip-hop-laced singles – the formula was there but the execution was slightly off. Still, there are more than a few underrated cuts on this one.

Forgotten favorites: “Boy (I Need You”),” “The One,” “You Got Me”

rainbow

8. Rainbow (1999)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Mariah’s always been a bit of a musical chameleon, and those colors really shine on Rainbow. Although it’s packed to the brim with hip-hop stars of the era (Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Da Brat, Snoop Dogg, even Master P and Mystkial come through) it still feels much more like a pop record than anything else. However, she still makes time to revisit her soulful roots as well. As with most of her lesser releases, this album struggles to find focus at times but it’s a great showcase of her artistic diversity.

Forgotten favorites: “Heartbreaker (Remix),” “Bliss,” “X-Girlfriend”

mc2

7. E=MC2 (2008)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: This album took a bit of a beating back in 2008 for sounding a bit too similar to Mariah’s previous effort, The Emancipation of Mimi. I mean, even the title basically screams Emancipation Part 2. But if you’re gonna find inspiration from an album, pattern yourself after a great one – and that’s exactly what E=MC2 does. As with the previous release, Mariah scales back the sparkles and gumdrops to add a bit more sass to her vocals. Arguably this is MC’s most unappreciated release.

Forgotten favorites: “I Stay In Love,” “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time,” “OOC”

emotions

6. Emotions (1991)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Don’t talk to Mariah about sophomore slumps, she’s not here for it. MC’s second release set the tone for her dominance of the 90s – massive singles, blockbuster ballads and impeccable vocals. Emotions allowed Mariah to branch away a bit from her pop origins and embrace her gospel roots to great effect. This album proved she could really do it all.

Forgotten favorites: “Till the End of Time,” “And You Don’t Remember,” “If It’s Over”

mariah carey

5. Mariah Carey (1990)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Y’all know what they say about first impressions. And when your debut album sells FIFTEEN MILLION copies worldwide, you can bet your name won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Longtime fans remember how “Vision of Love” catapulted Mariah’s career to the stars but that was just the beginning – subsequent singles and a dazzling array of album cuts made this one of the best releases of the decade.

Forgotten favorites: “Prisoner,” “All In Your Mind,” “Vanishing”

music box

4. Music Box (1993)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Are y’all still sick of “Hero?” Lord knows I am. Radio, TV, your school choir – that song was EV-ERY-WHERE in 1993. I still remember our neighbors blasting it in the middle of the night in the mid-90s. And while that song wore out its welcome three presidents ago, the album Music Box has stood the test of time. At 32 million copies sold worldwide, including diamond status here in the U.S., this remains Mariah’s biggest commercial release, and for good reason. The set boasts unbelievable pop and R&B tracks, several of which have become some of MC’s signature songs. I STILL skip track No. 2 to this day but I’ll never skip over this incredible album.

Forgotten favorites: “Anytime You Need a Friend,” “All I Ever Wanted,” “Music Box”

emancipation

3. The Emancipation of Mimi (2005)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: There is no way this album should have been this good. After nearly a decade of drama and so-so releases, MC delivered an album – 15 years after her debut, mind you – that blew away nearly everything in her legendary catalog. This was more than a redemption album; the blend of pop, soul and hip-hop helped breathe life into a genre that was starting to lose its way. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s the album that endeared Mariah to a whole new generation of R&B fans. More than a decade later, this is arguably Mariah’s most beloved released – just ask around online (believe me, I did).

Forgotten favorites: “Stay the Night,” “One and Only,” “Get Your Number”

daydream

2. Daydream (1995)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Daydream is a phenomenal album, y’all don’t need me to explain that. But what often goes unsaid is how important this album is to Mariah’s evolution as an artist and its impact on hip-hop. This was the album that began MC’s flirtation with hip-hop elements in her music, resulting in unexpected collaborations with spectacular results (teaming Mariah and ODB in 1995 for the “Fantasy” remix would be like Tamela Mann and 21 Savage on a track today – well, if 21 Savage wasn’t embarrassingly awful.) Mariah discovered a new sound, hip-hop gained new commercial credibility and we all were treated to unforgettable hits.

Forgotten favorites: “Underneath the Stars,” “Long Ago,” “Melt Away”

butterfly

1. Butterfly (1997)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Deciding between Butterfly and Daydream for the top spot almost came down to a coin flip – both albums are near flawless in their execution. But Butterfly gets the slight nod simply because of its enduring legacy. “Honey,” “My All,” “The Roof,” “Breakdown,” the remake of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” – nearly every one of the album’s 12 tracks are game-changers on their own. That’s why Butterfly almost feels like a greatest hits album – wall to wall hits in a literal golden package. It’s Mariah at her best.

Forgotten favorites: “Fourth of July,” “Whenever You Call,” “Fly Away”

What’s your favorite Mariah album? How would you rank all 12? Let us know below.

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1 Comments

  1. Going in order of #1 – 12: BUTTERFLY; TEOM; CHARMBRACELET; DAYDREAM; MARIAH CAREY; GLITTER; MUSIC BOX; E=MC2; EMOTIONS; MOAIA; MIAM..TEC; RAINBOW

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