By now, most pop-music fans know that Aimee Mann is one of the music biz's true renegades and finest songwriters. Ignored (some would say abused) by most major labels until her soundtrack for Magnolia received an Academy Award nomination (for "Save Me"), Mann maintains her outsider's status in her business practices and in the characters who populate her pensive, polished pop gems. Released on her own SuperEgo imprint, Lost In Space is dreamy, melancholic, considered, witty and quite wondrous. Mann is a master of the double entendre, whether praying for love ("Baby, please -- let me begin / I want to be your heroin") or comparing record-label hassles to a mate who can't decide between love and drugs ("This is How It Goes"). But for all the mental juggling inherent on Lost In Space, it is still wonderfully simple to get lost in Mann's persuasive songcraft.
The opener, "Humpty Dumpty," builds on a pulsing John Lennon-like piano riff, then peaks, falling over a breathtaking melodic waterfall with the lyric, "All the perfect drugs and superheroes wouldn't be enough to bring me up to zero." The album's recurring themes are wrapped around drugs, regret, and uncertainty, but Mann's melodies are so eloquent, with her band's George Harrison-styled accompaniment, the dark sentiments only lurk in the background. But even with the gorgeous melodies, the song's characters reflect the music's mood of caution and regret. Don't expect Mann to rock out anytime soon. Though she sings "get out while you can" with a passion bordering on anger, Mann is mostly reserved -- resigned.
"Guys Like Me" is one of the album's best songs, a barbed tale of a handsome player sung in the first person. It alone is worth the price of admission. "Invisible Ink" is another beauty. Mann's wistful question and answer melody presented unplugged as she describes sitting at a stoplight, a metaphor for her "frozen" indecision. "Today's the Day" is slow and sturdy in the verses, then soars in a majestic chorus full of twinkling bells and echoing space sounds.
Raising soul searching to the high art for which she is renowned, Aimee Mann remains a bit of a mystery -- as does the delicious Lost In Space.
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