December 05, 2002

Surely it's becoming increasingly passe to discuss '80s metal's infiltration of noughties chartpop, but it's fascinating to watch older erstwhile celebrities slouch towards "relevance" using a music that means virtually nothing to the crucial kiddiepop demographic. It makes me wonder -- are artists like Celine Dion (who recently covered AC/DC's "You Shook Me" on VH1's Divas Las Vegas with Anastacia and soft-rocker Meredith Brooks) aiming for the same market as those admen who've figured out how to use cred-rock to trigger impulses in deep-pocketed newly-forty kollektors? Because those consumers aren't the ones who listened to Celine Dion in the '90s, and why would they start now? Have has-beens and their publicists become canny enough to know that if you dangle these kinds of carrot sticks in front of rockscribes and students of the pop sociology, WE WILL EAGERLY ACCEPT THE BAIT, even if it's not good (especially if it's not good)?

I bring all this up because Charmbracelet, Mariah's new one, has a cover of Def Leppard's "Bringin' on the Heartbreak." The fact of the cover is hardly a shock; it's part of its moment; whatever. And it's not as if Carey isn't a bit of a music geek herself -- her records have paid tribute, in varying degrees, to Keith Jarrett, the Emotions, and the Tom Tom Club.

But something interesting's going on here. "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" was a hit for Def Leppard in 1981, but it's certainly not their most famous song. As a piece of nostalgia, it seems to refer more to the era (the point at which the tame extreme of the NWOBHM converged with prom-chintz peddlers like Air Supply) than the band (populist summer-of-'87 glam-metal for Anglophiles and Archies fans). Still and all, it's a schmaltz ballad. And Mariah Carey is a schmaltz balladeer. For me, this is the great turnaround from the days of Vanilla Fudge, whose hamfisted emo-sludgenik takes on the quieter-but-no-less-hamfisted "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "Some Velvet Morning" (songs that were, arguably, hard-rock/psychedelic BEFORE those wiseasses covered 'em) were either considered very novel or very mediocre.

Her cover is not "metal" really if you wanna get semantic -- it fits in well with the rest of the conservative elevator-soul on Charmbracelet -- but the original isn't particularly metal either. If you want (and I do), extend the definition of "metal" to include things like "November Rain" (this isn't entirely dissimilar), metal's farthest outpost and the place where the genre finally puts down its devil fist and admits that heavy rock and AM Gold and country and emo and chartpop and gospel are all just the same type of bad, gushy music.