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Mariah Carey got a taste of what life is like without Tommy Mottola last week. The question is, can she handle it?
For years Mariah was off-limits to criticism from the music press because she was married to Sony Music's chief operating officer. Even former New York Daily News gossip columnist AJ Benza admits in his new memoir that he treated Carey with kid gloves because of her high-powered marriage.
But all that changed last week when Billboard, the record industry's trade magazine and bible, reviewed Carey's first non-Mottola released single, "Loverboy." The magazine, which almost never gives a negative opinion, came down hard on "Loverboy," the first single from the soundtrack to the movie Glitter, in which Mariah stars, and her first on her new, extremely rich deal with Virgin Records.
The magazine's singles reviews editor Chuck Taylor wrote: "After such a prestigious record of hits for more than a decade, 'Loverboy' sounds dangerously close to self-sabotage. The mighty may have fallen here."
This was something of a change of heart from Billboard's review of Carey's single "Honey" in 1999. "Honey," which was on the same par as "Loverboy" — a mélange of samplings from old songs with Carey scatting, not singing, inane and indecipherable lyrics — fared slightly better. Even if the reviewer didn't like the song, the spin was still positive.
"It's always an event when Mariah Carey releases the first single from an upcoming album — in this case Rainbow, due this fall from longtime label Columbia. … Simply put: Yes, it's a hit, and her voice is in fine form, but 'Heartbreaker' is a disappointment in terms of what we know she's capable of writing."
It turns out, it's all in the way you look at it.
It didn't help last week that Sony/Columbia released the new album by Jessica Simpson, teen sensation wannabe and Carey successor. A feature written in Billboard by the very same Chuck Taylor reads:
"Among the highlights of Irresistible is Simpson's favorite, 'Hot Like Fire,' a funky midtempo shuffler that she delivers with blazing vocal grit — it's certainly not kid stuff. … The set also serves up momentously luscious ballads …"
Calls to Taylor on Friday were not returned.
Additionally hurtful to Carey is that Simpson is evidently aided by her onetime songwriting partner at Sony, Walter Afanasieff, who shaped some of Carey's biggest songs. For "Loverboy," according to the writing credits, Carey composed the song herself and lists the members of the group Cameo as her partners. "Loverboy" is mostly sampled from Cameo's 1980s hit record Candy.
Carey on her own as a songwriter is problematic. She's been involved in several plagiarism lawsuits, most of them settled with Carey making a large payoff and no admissions of guilt. One of the suits, over the song "Hero," has dragged on for most of a decade. Former limo driver Christopher Selletti claimed that lyrics he'd written and given to onetime pop star Sly Stone had turned up as "Hero."
In her defense, Carey produced notebooks and tapes to the court showing how she and Afanasieff wrote the song for the Dustin Hoffman movie, Hero. Unfortunately, the dates for these sessions were after the movie was released. But Selletti was ill-equipped to combat Carey's impressive legal resources and has never prevailed.
Carey's previous sampling efforts include a hit record called Fantasy, based on the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" — which she acknowledged; and the wholesale theft of the Emotions' "Best of My Love" for her 1991 hit "Emotions," written by Earth, Wind & Fire's Maurice White. In the latter case, White received payment after complaining about the songs' similarities.
If "Loverboy" is not a hit, Carey's next single is said to be a remake of "Hey Mr. DJ" — also from the 1980s — although Carey's already sampled "Hey DJ" by Malcolm McLaren for "Honey," so who knows what that means. There's already been a Jennifer Lopez version of "Hey Mr. DJ" called "Play" and a Backstreet Boys song with the same name and idea. But of course none of these acts can ever be accused of originality. (Madonna, I believe, also dabbled with this idea.)
Carey is also busy filming a new movie up in Canada, but set in Staten Island, N.Y. The $10 million indie feature, called Wise Girls, is about three waitresses who work in a mob-owned diner. Mira Sorvino, who has frittered her 1995 Oscar away, and Melora Walters, are her co-stars. David Anspaugh, who directed the mediocre efforts Rudy, Moonlight and Valentino and Hoosiers, is in charge.
Michael Jackson may be getting a new manager. After being "fired" by The Firm, which handles Madonna, and having gone through Sandy Gallin, a Saudi prince and others, Jackson is said to have been negotiating with Louis Levin, who also manages Michael Bolton. But this may have hit a snag too: When the word hit the street that the talks had started, Jackson, I am told, balked. He better get someone fast, with the Invincible album and Madison Square Garden shows looming in the nearer and nearer future.
This column wasn't alone in panning Tomb Raider, but that didn't stop the movie-going audience. A whopping $48.2 million take for the weekend is impressive, I'll admit. P.T. Barnum was right: There's a sucker born every minute.
And please, no e-mail about how critics don't like action movies. Terminator 2, Die Hard 1, Starship Troopers, Shanghai Noon, The Matrix, and Blade Runner are among the very best. Tomb Raider is not.
Finally, I'm told it is Paul McCartney's 59th birthday. Happy Birthday, Paul! Tomorrow, Image (not "Imagine") Entertainment releases Paul's Live at the Cavern Club video on DVD. Macca recorded this in December 1999, when he played one hot rock show at the Liverpool club (now rebuilt) where the Beatles got their start. The songs include a bunch of rock standards that McCartney has previously recorded plus the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There." The DVD also has an interview with Paul and some other extras. A real winner in the music DVD category. (PS: It's worth hunting down McCartney's Russian "bootleg" CD issued on Capitol Records a few years ago to hear him play some of these same hits in a different setting.)