Copyright CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Date: Friday, November 19, 1993
Source: Chris Heim.
Section: FRIDAY Column: Take 2. Friday's Guide to Movies & Music. Music. Concert line.
REJUVENATED AIMEE MANN CAN DO `WHATEVER' SHE WANTS
For Aimee Mann, revenge is sweet. So is '60s rock, a career revival after a nearly five-year hiatus and one of the finest pop albums of 1993. Mann put that all together with her recent solo set, "Whatever," her remarkable response to some of the nastier things the music industry can dish out.
Mann and her former band, 'Til Tuesday, started off well enough. The group hit the Top 10 right off with the single "Voices Carry" from the 1985 debut album of the same name. But two successive albums, "Welcome Home" and "Everything's Different Now," while critically judged as artistically stronger works, were less successful commercially and Mann and the band then began to see another side of the business.
"Like a lot of artists," she explained, "I ran into difficulty with my record company. They didn't think they could sell whatever it was I was doing, so they wanted me to change fairly drastically to give them a more marketable product. And that's just not the way I approach music. That's not why I'm in it. So I objected and said maybe you should just let me off the label.
"But they didn't want to do that either, because they thought that I was just accessible enough that if I was at a company that really cared about what I was doing, I might be successful. And they didn't want to see that happen. So I was just kept in limbo for three and a half years. And finally they released me after they were pretty sure my career was ended. . . .
"The Beatles could never get a record deal in this day and age. I'm convinced of that. How would they be marketed. Is it AOR? Is it Top 40 dance music? Is it alternative? Is it adult contemporary? That's the kind of questions they ask and if it doesn't fit any of those categories, they say how can we jam this square peg in the round hole."
Mann decided to try another route. Without a record deal, but with the financial support of her current manager, Patrick Rains, she went into the studio and put together her first solo album. The new set is called "Whatever," a title that at first glance seems a bit off-handed and anomic. For Mann, though, it was a lively, engaging call to freedom, the opportunity to do "whatever" she wanted as an artist, not "whatever" a company wanted to sell.
"Whatever" has been alternately described as a diatribe about the music industry and the soundtrack to a bitter, stormy breakup. Mann was once quoted as saying it was about "revenge, defeat and despair," though she clarifies that by adding, "That was a joke. How could that be true? You'd have to be incredibly pompous to say that you only had three themes. That's ridiculous.
"I write songs about whatever I think is interesting or troublesome. There's always that thread for me. The songs that are the better songs are the ones that have the strongest emotions running through them."
Mann set those themes and emotions in a refreshingly different context marked by strong tunes with great pop hooks; smart turns of phrase; Mann's own appealingly dusky, Chrissie Hynde-like vocals; and a style closer to the Beatles, Byrds and other '60s popsters than today's grunge bands or even 'Til Tuesday's old technopop.
"It's just a really different approach to playing because when you are released from that yoke of trying to please the record company, then you just do what you want, what sounds good, things you've been wanting to try and ways of playing that you've been wanting to play. And I think that when you have that kind of atmosphere, suddenly you're making much better music.
"Jon (Brion, producer for the album and a member of the final edition of 'Til Tuesday) and I were listening to a lot of ('60s pop) and there were specific things that we really wanted to do that we hadn't been hearing on pop records for the last however many decades. So we just tried them out."
"Whatever" also provided proof that there are still people in the music business devoted to art, not just commerce.
"Everybody who worked on it," Mann said, "worked on it before I had a record deal. So nobody got near the money they were used to getting. They just did it because they wanted to be involved in it. It was really a labor of love on all parts.
"It's just a little depressing when you feel like that kind of dedication to the purest of ideals is never rewarded with any kind of financial return. And, unfortunately, if you're not rewarded with any kind of financial return, people don't let you continue to make records. That's when they say it's time for you to change your music because obviously what you're doing is not selling, so it's not good enough."
That's what they said to Aimee Mann. She replied with "Whatever," the sound of sweet pop revenge.
Aimee Mann appears Monday at Park West. The Michael McDermott Band unplugged opens.
PHOTO: Aimee Mann, formerly of 'Til Tuesday, goes solo at Park West on Monday.