Perhaps the greatest vocalist to ever have lived, Mariah Carey is celebrating 30 years as a recording artist. And what better way to mark that, than to release not only a highly pertinent anthem for our time – but also to do it with the help of another living legend.
Save the Day, released via Columbia/Legacy and Sony Music Entertainment, sees Carey drop the first cut off her forthcoming album The Rarities; a collection of songs that never made it onto albums. First penned back in 2011 with producer Jermaine Dupri and Randy Jackson, Save the Day has been brought back to life – and the track is wholly invigorating and classy in equal measure.
It is ostensibly what Carey helped pioneer back in the 90s: the effortless fusing of Hip Hop beats with Soul sensibilities; a sound she mastered, which others then followed. It opens with a grandiose string quartet arrangement, which runs a demisemiquaver glissando before briefly elongating out with some heavy vibrato. This then makes way for a tinkering piano line. It’s classic Carey – the left hand driving the chord progressions, the right running a syncopated countermelody to the main melodic line, offering responses to its calls. Then, the strings delicately return across breves, before both lines rapidly crescendo – and the track begins proper.
Hip Hop is the driving force of Save the Day. The drum beat is incessant: the kick driving on the one and three; the snare on a ‘and-two-(three)-and-four’; hi-hats filling in the spaces in between along with the inclusion of tom-toms. It’s persistent and unrelenting – and creates a stark contrast to the rest of the instrumental arrangement.
Save the Day is also bass-heavy. Working off a drop-beat rhythm, it generally misses the two and then syncopates across the rest of the bar, except on the third of its four-bar phrase. This skipping of beat two is particularly effective, as not only does it serve as a musical breath, drawing our ear automatically to Carey and Hill’s vocals, but the space serves to increase Save the Day’s wind. The use of the piano throughout the main part of the track has been scaled-back, but it still gently runs a countermelody, almost out of earshot.
Save the Day can’t help but reverting back to its Soul roots, though – as Carey and Dupri have embedded a glorious bridge into the track. It begins stripped back with just her vocal line and the piano; then, the bass returns, as do the strings – before the Hip Hop vibes come crashing back in again. The bridge, intro and outro serve as smart musical bookending – framing the harder Hip Hop beats with Soul, nodding to the genre-smashing and enhancing the thought-provoking and searing lyrical content.
But it’s the Killing Me Softly… sample which shows the intuitive creative talents of Carey and Dupri. That vocal riff of Hill’s, where she does the tightest of runs across vowel sounds, is seared into the consciousness of a certain generation of people. Here, it fits perfectly into the track – used as a counter vocal line to Carey’s infectious main melody across the chorus. Melodically it’s perfect, fitting into the chord progressions. Creatively it’s deft – drawing in one of the most recognisable vocal performances of the era that Save the Day harks back to. But as an analogical statement it’s also extremely smart – both Hill’s crying vocal run, symbolising our species’ collective screams, and the track it’s from, as those in charge of our society physically and metaphorically ‘kill us softly’.
Save the Day is undoubtedly Carey’s show, though. The first thing that stands out is something many critics probably take for granted: Carey’s ability to do MTR vocals across separate octaves and harmonies, and then layer them together in perfect rhythmic and melodic sync. Here, the preciseness of her recording skill is faultless; as is her vocal.
It’s classic Carey: sweeping across around three octaves, from the low alto of the harmonic line; the whispering middle soprano of the main verse and chorus; the higher soprano when she breaks out after the main bridge and that classic whistle register, hitting F6 at one point. Her breath control is that of a classically-trained singer – ensuring that her intake of oxygen only happens when the lyrical phrasing allows. Carey’s use of vibrato is as controlled as it has ever been – employing it immediately on the pianissimo notes, but holding it back on the forte ones so as to emphasise the lyrics before the deep, rich vibrato kicks in.
Her vocal runs are as impressive as ever – detailed, well-enunciated and pointed; her rapid switching between her chest and head voice very controlled, and use of crescendo and decrescendo effortless. She’s lost little of her technical skill over the years, with no vocal engineering in sight apart from the obligatory reverb – and still sets the standard most other female singers have to look up to. But as is often the case with Carey, she’s combined this musical and technical mastery with ingenious, poetic and searing lyrics. The timing is perfect, as chaos engulfs us all, with Carey giving a protest cry for common humanity and unity amongst us – and not those who seeks to divide us. As she sings:
“You got a right to your own opinion, but when it comes to the world we live in, isn’t it time that we start rebuilding all of the things that have basically crumbled? We all tend to forget that we all cease to exist if we all live for ourselves; if nobody bothers to find a solution”.
Pertinent and on-point – perhaps the anthem that sums up 2020 and what we need, right now.
Save the Day is a very welcome return from Carey and Dupri. It’s exceptionally clever – in terms of a nod back to an earlier era in her musical career that also serves, with its style and Hill’s sample, as an allegory to a time when everything seemed more settled, more hopeful – even if it actually wasn’t much different to now. Musically deft, Carey’s vocal is sublime – and if this sets the standard for The Rarities, then the album should be immaculate. Stunning.