Like few artists before or after her, Mariah Carey has been there and back in her career. She’s experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows, and having gone through that cycle once already, she’s sort of in an in-between stage in her career now–having disappeared from the limelight for a second time, but conceivably on the comeback trail as of the last few months, with a new album in the works and, of course, a high-profile guest stint on American Idol giving her her greatest exposure in years. She’s not quite there yet, but she can probably feel her second big comeback right around the corner.
On the surface, the song is presumably about the plot of Oz the Great and Powerful—a kind of reboot of the classic Wizard of Oz franchise based on one of the Oz books written by L. Frank Baum, taken from the perspective of the Wizard himself—for which “Almost Home” is the theme. But the song’s lyrics can very easily be read to have the double-meaning of telling the story of her own third act, where through perseverance and self-belief, Mimi herself can make it back to the top of the charts—the pop strata which, for the better part of two decades, Mariah called “home.”
I’ve held hope in my two hands
That there would be another chance
To find the kingdom, I’m believing in my heart
Pop stars rarely get another chance in this industry, and after her early ’00s meltdown—Glitter, Charmbracelet, the TRL appearance—Mariah got her second chance with “We Belong Together,” the 14-week chart-topper that resurrected her career, with a song that only Mariah could’ve owned the way she did. To “find the kingdom” again, she would be well-off “believing in her heart” once more—not trying to trend-hop with big-name modern guests like Rick Ross and Meek Mill on songs like “Triumphant (Get ‘Em),” but to stick to big ballads like this one the emphasize what she does best.
When you run, run so far
You’ve forgotten who you are
Where you’re from, it’s like some other universe
You count your steps, like they’re regrets
You catch one breath then lose the rest
Wrong is right, right is left
And there’s nowhere left to turn
Mariah’s gone through so many personality turns over the course of the decade, it’d be understandable if she had sort of forgotten who she was at her core. She’s collaborated with Cam’ron, beefed with Eminem, brought back the ’80s and tried to push into the future. Not all of creative directions were good ones for Mimi, and she’s probably counted a number of them like regrets, feeling so mixed up that she has no idea where she she’s been, or where she’s even going. Regardless of the direction, fewer have run farther than Mariah.
When you’re almost there
And you’re almost home
Just open up your eyes and go, go
When you’re almost there, almost home
Know you’re not alone
You’re almost home
Is Mariah “almost home”? Well, she’s on the road at least, which was more than she was the first few years of the decade, when she was out of the limelight almost completely, busy in her personal life with new husband Nick Cannon and the couple’s first young’ns, Moroccan and Monroe. Now that she’s back in her wheelhouse, with big ballads like “Almost Home,” sounding more comfortable than she has on any song in years—just listen to that big key change, really—you can feel that she senses that she’s close once more. Besides, the Wizard has an established helped people find their way home.