Mariah Carey chronology
Singles from Music Box
"Dreamlover" Released: July 27, 1993
"Hero" Released: October 19, 1993
"Without You/Never Forget You" Released: January 24, 1994
"Anytime You Need a Friend" Released: May 27, 1994
Mariah Carey and Music Box MP3..
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|The New York Times||(favorable)|
|Rolling Stone||3/5 stars (1993)|
|Rolling Stone||2/5 stars (2004)|
Upon release, Music Box received mixed reviews from critics, with positive attention given to its lyrics. Music Box's energy level and Carey's vocal style, however, were almost unanimously criticized. Critics felt Mariah Carey became "too mellow" and "somewhat lazy" on Music Box, 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 Music Box 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 Music Box as a "toned down" album, and that Mariah 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 Music Box 4 out of 5 stars, Roc Wynn of Allmusic said that Mariah Carey's "octave-leaping" voice was downplayed in favor of the demonstration of "her ability to sing softly and cooly." Although favorably stating that Mariah 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 Music Box's "different" approach was wise. Ashley S. Battel from Billboard gave Music Box a positive review, writing, "While Mariah 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 Music Box a mixed review. He said that due to Mariah 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 Music Box an unenthusiastic score of C+. Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone complimented Mariah 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 Music Box "takes aim at the commercial pop mainstream with an even sharper focus" than Mariah 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 Music Box a "dud" rating, indicating "a bad record whose details rarely merit further thought". In a retrospective review, The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) noted a "soft-rock slump" and stated "While there's nothing wrong with Mariah 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".