Copyright 1989 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

April 19, 1989, Wednesday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 951 words

HEADLINE: Balm for the Brokenhearted;
'Til Tuesday and Black's Songs to Cry Along With

BYLINE: Joe Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer

   Anyone who has a heart has had it broken. And sitting around singing along with feel-sorry-for-yourself pop tunes has always been part of the prescription for pain. The American band 'Til Tuesday and the British act Black have released records that track failed romance and what becomes of the brokenhearted. And aside from providing pure pleasure for rock-oriented romantics, they just might prove therapeutic for those whose winter bliss didn't make it past the spring thaw.

'Til Tuesday: 'Everything's Different Now'

When her very public relationship with singer/songwriter Jules Shear dissolved, 'Til Tuesday's lead singer/songwriter Aimee Mann acted out with "Everything's Different Now" (Epic), a suite of songs so personal it occasionally feels like reading someone's diaries and love letters, yet so universal it's also like reading your own.

Certainly other pop artists (notably Carly Simon with "You're So Vain") have taken romantic revenge in the form of a hit single. And others (most recently Barbra Streisand with "Till I Loved You") have traced the arc of a relationship in an album. But few have so realistically rendered the dynamics of a breakup as sensitively as Mann, who merges her meditations with an ear-grabbing folk-pop hybrid that already marks "Everything's Different Now" as one of the year's strongest pop records.

In their shared intimacy and authenticity, the album's first five tracks form a sort of informal song cycle about Mann's lost love -- and about yours, too, if you care to empathize. Ironically, the title track, a should-be hit single fueled by propulsively chunky rhythm guitar, was written by Shear. And as Mann sings it, the lyrics cut both ways -- it might be a brave farewell to her departed lover, or a word of encouragement to his successor. It's the ambiguity that makes it stick.

"Rip in Heaven" has the album's most indelible melody, and after Mann wonders whether she should have quit when they were ahead, she sinks the deepest hook with the chorus: "So long and sorry, darling/ I was counting to forever/ And never even got to ten." Then there's " 'J' for Jules," a cryptic bit of personal history, with Mann remembering journeys taken together and admitting to the memory-plagued malaise that followed the split.

The circle closes with "(Believed You Were) Lucky," at once a gentle rebuke and a benediction, as Mann wishes that her lover had "believed in life/ Believed in fate/ Believed you were lucky/ And worth the wait." At song's end, she turns that refrain into a wish for his happiness, " 'cause life could be lovely/ Life could be so great."

If they don't have the cohesiveness of the starting lineup, the other five songs are equally poignant, notably "Why Must I," in which Mann wonders why she's taking this one so hard. Elvis Costello chimes in on background vocals on "The Other End (of the Telescope)," a ballad of disillusionment that he cowrote with Mann -- a collaboration that should be encouraged.

It's not just the words that Mann gets right. Perhaps because the material is so close to the bone, her singing aches without going all overemotional, a meeting of Chrissie Hynde-tough and Emmylou Harris-tender. After two earlier albums, 'Til Tuesday is now down to the core of Mann and drummer Michael Hausman, but with help from friends such as guitarist Robert Holmes, celebrity soul bass player Marcus Miller and producer Rhett Davies (who's done some time with Bryan Ferry and Fleetwood Mac), they achieve something more mysterious and emotionally satisfying than merely catchy pop.

'Til Tuesday appears at the Bayou tomorrow.

Black: 'Comedy'

Where Mann and 'Til Tuesday offer faint notes of hope for life after love, the music of Britain's Black recognizes one of the few real pleasures a romantic wreck affords -- an opportunity to wallow in self-pity.

Black is basically a one-man outfit, in the person of Colin Vearncombe, who writes/sings/plays the songs and, of course, wears black clothing on his album jackets and videos. The sort of British pop success story that's becoming more and more common, Vearncombe constructed his synth-and-voice demo tapes in his bedsit apartment; they led to the 1987 A&M LP "Black," memorable for its two haunting European hit singles, "Wonderful Life" and "Sweetest Smile," whose sweetly melancholy melodies hid bitter sentiments. Both ironically titled tunes resurface on Black's follow-up, aptly titled "Comedy" (A&M).

Get it?

"Wonderful Life," about a man alone while the sun shines and everyone else seems happy, has been rerecorded with more sax and moody reverb, and where the original was somewhat mechanical, this one swings soft and sultry. Remixed to '89 sonic standards, "Sweetest Smile" still contains some deliciously bitter postromantic lines, such as "And don't tell me how to make it pay/ I write a new song every day/ I just wish I was made of wood/ I might not feel pain/ Even if I should."

These recycled tracks are the standouts on the new album, too, and if you like them, you'll like the other eight, which feature Black immersed in misery-turned-melody, sinking into lush, homogenous electronic orchestrations. Most of the songs are written in hindsight, as walking-wounded Black muses on a defunct romance he once believed was "The Big One," or tries to take some (admittedly childish) comfort in the idea that "Hey, I Was Right You Were Wrong!"

Ultimately, it's not so much what Black has to say as the way he makes it sound. With a sepulchral sigh in his ripe baritone, he's making a career of playing the suffering bastard, a tonal tactic that's been proven plenty lucrative by such sob-misters as Morrissey and the late Roy Orbison.