July 16, 1990 12:00 PM

Mariah Carey

It’s hard to know who was the most impressive performer during the NBA playoffs—Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Clyde Drexler or Carey, who sang “America, the Beautiful” in Detroit before the first game of the finals. At 20, she sings with extraordinary control, driving power, lovely pitch and wide range. And as this debut album shows, she is not just an anthem role player.

A New Yorker whose mother is a vocal coach (she doesn’t talk about her father), Carey has a gospel-flavored R&B style that evokes thoughts of everyone from Houston, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross to Yma Sumac, the octave-spanning Peruvian from the ’50s. Carey has is one of those rare voices that could be entertaining singing the phone book, a trait that comes in handy on this album. Its 10 songs are uniformly forgettable, both melodically and lyrically. Though the album was co-produced by the reliably homogenizing Narada Michael Walden, Rhett (Smokey Robinson) Lawrence and Ric (Taylor Dayne) Wake, Carey has only herself to blame. She co-wrote all the tunes and arranged most of them with Ben Margulies. While she can’t be expected to be brimming with worldly wisdom at her tender years, she would have profited from more outside help.

This album, striking as it is, could have been spectacular with better raw material. Surely Carey has heard of Stevie Wonder and Prince, if not Ellington, Gershwin or Holland-Dozier-Holland.

It’s testimony to her talent that she does so much with so little. Even such routine songs as “Vision of Love” and the de rigueur social-consciousness effort “There’s Got to Be a Way” can be mesmerizing, thanks to Carey’s tone and clarity.

As for pondering the future, Carey has so many chops to lick that unless she decides to pack it all in and join the Pistons full-time, she is just about a lock to become pop music’s biggest sensation since Whitney Houston. (Columbia)

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