Bring Me a Hook (3/28/2083)
Aimee Mann, Lost In Space (Superego Records 2002) - Lost In Space is the fourth solo release in the last decade from the former frontwoman for 'Til Tuesday. Still bruised by love (despite her marriage of several years to Michael Penn), still enamored of Beatleistic hooks, Lost In Space showcases Aimee's voice.
Now firmly wedded to the indie path, Lost In Space is the follow-up to Bachelor No. 2, which was kissing cousin to the songs on the Magnolia soundtrack. Bachelor No. 2 contained some of the songs from the soundtrack, together with other music, in an uneven set (being the curse of any indie artist - the lack of a strong producer). In contrast, Magnolia was a perfectly aching collection, probing in all the right places.
Superego Records was formed by Mann with her former cohort from 'Til Tuesday, Michael Hausman. Both dropouts from the Berklee School of Music, 'Til Tuesday shot up the pop pantheon with three albums recorded for Epic, including the beautiful breakup album, Everything's Different Now.
Says Aimee, "Probably one of the reasons it's so frustrating dealing with people at record companies who are trying to push you in a direction you're not comfortable with is that they're trying to get you to do stuff you're not good at. Posing for pictures and videos and schmoozing is the thing I'm least competent at. But writing lyrics and putting songs together and recording them - that part I'm good at."
Mann purchased the tapes for Bachelor No. 2 from her previous label, Interscope Records, rather than re-recording it in a more radio-friendly theme. Adds the singer, "We got our record back, and I'm sure Interscope could have given us a lot more trouble about getting it back, but they didn't, and God bless them."
Aimee continues. "It hasn't been a system for people like me in a long, long time. I was crazy to think I could find someway to make it work for me. As it happens, I can't. And I'm a million times happier, just going out on tour, playing for myself and having nobody criticize the way I'm touring or what I'm playing or what I say in interviews. It's fantastic - it's incredibly liberating."
In describing Lost In Space, Mann says, "There's a line that runs through all these songs, in a way that's different from the previous records...My music is honest and real, but it's not a word-for-word depiction of each day of my life. Everything is done to a code that only I know."
Mann adds that, "I've been doing a lot of reading about addiction in its various forms, and how people use lots of different things to alter mood...Certain types of relationships are very drug-like, whether its sex addiction or immersing yourself in another person and imparting to them some kind of magical qualities, like only they can make you feel better."
Unfortunately, I can't find the groove on Lost In Space. I like the way Aimee works with words. She draws me into the lyrics. I find her voice comforting and challenging at the same time. But I don't find anything on Lost In Space that brings me back repeatedly, as I did on the triumphant Magnolia.
There's a core group of female singer-songwriters who work with smart words and a dagger in their hand. Aimee Mann fits this mold. But I want a hook, a catchy groove, something that I can wrap myself around. "Pavlov's Bell" gets pretty close.
However, most of the ten tracks are disappointing. There's a somber feeling to Lost In Space that resists repeated listenings. Even if I do find myself drawn, like a moth to a flame, to tracks like "Humpty Dumpty" and "Today's the Day."
Human League, Secrets (Ark 21 2002) - Now working as a three-piece combo, techno pioneers Human League still have a devoted following from their 80's recording success, including "Don't You Want Me." Secrets, the group's first new release in six years, was originally an indie release, but was picked up for wider distribution by Ark 21 Records.
The trio of singers Philip Oakey, Susan Ann Gayle and JoAnne Catheral are a competent force, and mixed their voices in a delicious, Pet Shop Boys sound. "Love Her Madly?" has an incessant dance beat, "Ran" has a perfect techno sheen.
Secrets was produced by Toy, with Neil Sutton on keyboards and David Beevers providing "technical secrets."
With 16 tracks of dance hall material, Secrets is a fresh breeze, all pop and polish and beats-per-minute.
Phil Mann Band, Damn Glad To Meet Ya' (Powderfinger Records) - Phil Mann, a self-taught guitar player and song writer, recruited a host of top flight music talent from the New York City area to help him with his debut album. Damn Glad To Meet Ya' (originally released under the name My Fine Friend Phil) is an accessible set, rooted in bar-band rock.
Helping Phil on Damn Glad To Meet Ya' are Andy York on lead and rhythm guitars, Rich Pagano on drums and percussion, Brad Albetta and Will Lee on bass guitar, and Doug Petty and Andy Bertman on piano and organ. The album was impressive enough to help Phil land producer Gary Katz (who has also worked with Steely Dan) to produce his second album, Peace.
While Phil can turn a power chord alongside Tom Petty, I hear a bit of old Jules Shear, with the melodic downbeat elements. And Phil shows the ability to write a catching lyric on "Heaven Knows," while maintaining an open sound that gives the instruments a chance to breathe. Also, listen for the catchy guitar pop of "Matchless."
A homemade project and a work with a core, Damn Glad To Meet Ya' is a piece in time, as Phil got his friends to land in the studio for an inspired jam session.
- Randy Krbechek © 2003
Check CD Shakedown for Weekly
Reviews of Music CDs and New Albums