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- American singer and songwriter
The bad news about Mariah Carey’s “The Rarities” — a new album issued Friday that rounds up previously unreleased tracks along with several B-sides and a concert recording from Tokyo during her “Daydream” tour — is that it doesn’t include anything from the out-of-print (and not-on-streaming) alt-rock album that Carey secretly made in 1995 under the band name Chick.
As she explained this week for the first time while promoting her just-released memoir, the pop superstar cut the grungy “Someone’s Ugly Daughter” at the same time that she was recording ultra-polished hits like “Fantasy” and “Always Be My Baby”; a friend, Clarissa Dane Davidson, served as Chick’s frontwoman and starred in a number of little-noticed music videos, though Carey evidently wrote and produced the band’s songs and sang back-up vocals in the studio.
The videos are available on YouTube — think Veruca Salt or Letters to Cleo — but given how delightfully this revelation disrupts the established idea of Mariah Carey, surely she could’ve thrown a few more of those tantalizing Chick tracks on “The Rarities,” right? Certainly they’d have improved upon “Save the Day,” an underwhelming ’90s-throwback collab with Ms. Lauryn Hill, or the superfluous “acoustic” remake of “Close My Eyes” (from 1997’s “Butterfly”) that closes the collection.
Fun fact: I did an alternative album while I was making Daydream 👀 Just for laughs, but it got me through some dark days. Here's a little of what I wrote about it in #TheMeaningOfMariahCarey 🤟 S/O to my friend Clarissa who performs the lead w/ me as a hidden layer #Chick #TMOMC pic.twitter.com/Re23t5whcd
— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) September 27, 2020
But enough whining about what might’ve been. Despite its filler, “The Rarities” does feature some buried treasure that any Carey fan will be glad she dug up. Here are seven highlights from the double-disc set:
“Here We Go Around Again”
An outtake from the singer’s blockbuster 1990 self-titled debut, this uptempo pop-soul number points toward the ecstatic quality Carey would go on to perfect in 1991’s chart-topping “Emotions.” Her vocal is as precise as always — even if you can hear her admit, “The end of that was iffy,” as the song finishes — but what’s more impressive is how dialed-in Carey’s writing already was in a tune whose darting melody evokes the comings and goings of a guy who can’t make up his mind about her.
“Can You Hear Me”
Carey co-wrote this schmaltzy but effective ballad with Barry Mann, the veteran songwriter best known for the run of foundational ’60s pop hits he created with his wife, Cynthia Weil, including “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” In retrospect, you can see why she didn’t put it on her sophomore album, which features a showier slow jam (“If It’s Over”) that Carey composed with Mann’s old friend-slash-competitor Carole King. Yet the moody “Can You Hear Me” is the superior song, with a ripple of desperation in Carey’s singing that plays against the plush easy-listening keyboards.
Recorded with producer Jermaine Dupri during the sessions for 1995’s “Daydream,” “One Night” is about a woman asking a man “for something sacred, more than merely physical.” But if it starts out in a churchy gospel mode, with Carey backed by a small choir that includes Kelly Price, the song quickly transforms into something earthier thanks to the addition of a funky, low-slung hip-hop beat.
“Loverboy (Firecracker — Original Version)”
According to pop legend, Carey originally built “Loverboy,” the lead single from her star-crossed 2001 movie musical “Glitter,” around a sample of “Firecracker” by Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra — but was stymied when Jennifer Lopez stole the sample for her song “I’m Real” with help from Carey’s ex-husband, Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola (about whom Carey has some disturbing things to say in her book). For “Loverboy,” Carey replaced the “Firecracker” sample with an equally prominent one from Cameo’s mid-’80s electro-funk song “Candy.” Now, at last, we can hear the song as she envisioned it.
More church-music Mariah, this time in a stately plea for deliverance from “bigotry and hate” that she co-wrote in 2005 with Kenneth Crouch, nephew of the late gospel-crossover maestro Andraé Crouch.
“Lullaby of Birdland”
“I’m a chanteuse,” Carey tells the audience at the top of this live rendition of the jazz standard made famous by Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. And indeed her nimble “Lullaby of Birdland,” recorded during her tour behind 2014’s “Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse,” imagines an alternate path Carey might’ve taken (or indeed will take if she ever tires of keeping up with the latest shifts in pop production). “When I was little I would be in lingerie on the piano,” she goes on in her intro. “Appropriate? Not really.”
As a live performer, Carey is somewhat less of a sure thing these days. Remember her televised New Year’s Eve fiasco a few years ago? But at the Tokyo Dome on that night in 1996, she belted this maudlin ’70s power ballad as though her life — or at least her career — depended on it. Try not to weep along.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.