Aimee Mann - Stranger Into Starman
Aimee Mann is one of those artists who quietly produces songs of real quality without really troubling the press or being lauded as the next so-and-so. Even providing the soundtrack for P T Anderson's mammoth movie Magnolia wasn't enough to make her more widely known over in the UK. Even I, who had enjoyed her work, had let her fall off my radar recently, only to find that her latest is another well crafted collection of West Coast melancholia; it's title, with deleted expletive, should make it clear how she feels about those with a sunny disposition (and I'm guessing there's a fair few of those in LA).
The album opens with the familiar sounding Freeway, containing everything you might expect; male backing, a catchy tune and chorus, which makes the next track, Stranger into Starman, a bit of a shock. Just piano and her voice sounding better than ever before a simple arrangement fleshes out this tiny track. Lovely. Mann's voice for those that haven't heard it is like a combination of Karen Carpenter and Chrissie Hynde, deep and rich and surprisingly sweet given the bitter tang to some of her lyrics. A song like Phoenix is a good example, with its lovely string accompaniment even whilst she sings about leaving her lover, telling us 'I know love doesn't change a thing'. 31 Today is another track typical of her outlook ' I thought my life would be different somehow/I thought my life would be better by now/But it's not, and I don't know where to turn'.
It's Over is the album's big number, with a far more optimistic outlook, encouragement to make the most of life, ' cos everything's beautiful, every day's a holiday'. There are some clear musical influences; Borrowing Time, as another reviewer has pointed out, has clear echoes of Iggy Pop's Passenger, Little Tornado is very Simon and Garfunkel and True Believer is imbued with the spirit of Elliot Smith. All in all it makes for very pleasant listening but I'm not sure that this album is going to get her any closer to being a household name on this side of the pond.