Copyright 1993 Gannett Company, Inc.  

June 25, 1993, Friday

LENGTH: 320 words


BYLINE: PATRICK BEACH; The Des Moines Register

   - "Whatever" Aimee Mann, (Imago)

If you've bothered to remember anything at all about "'Til Tuesday," it's probably the band's one and only hit, "Voices Carry," and the singer with the wild platinum hair. Well, the band is gone, the hair has been tamed and the singer, Aimee Mann, has her first solo album out.

So why should you care? Because "Whatever" is a swell collection of bright, '60s-flavored pop, a far better effort than anybody expected from this all-but-forgotten artist. Mann's manager put up the cash to cut this, and it was delivered more or less take-it-or-leave-it to Imago. A risky strategy, yes, but one that allowed Mann to concentrate on music instead of business and commercial viability.

Mann's prickly vulnerability makes hers a cause you want to champion. This is a woman who's been burned a lot in relationships, yet is willing to try again. On the dive-bombing guitar pop tune "I Should've Known," she concludes by spitting, I should thank you, almost. "4th of July" finds her bumming over another sour relationship, and when they light up our town I think/what a waste of gunpowder and sky.

The alternately vengeful and mournful lyrics are contrasted by scruffy, genuinely inspired music. Whether it's a contemplative lament or a straight rocker, the songs are consistently loaded with good stuff - George Harrison-style guitar, Beatles-style string arrangements, Roger McGuinn-style 12-string leads. (McGuinn himself turns up a couple of times, and on "Could've Been Anyone" actually quotes his own Byrds licks.) And lots of weird or at least outdated instruments slyly shade the mix - piccolo, bottles, glockenspiel, oboe, vibraphone and ancient analog keyboards. It's beyond craftsmanship; it's pop as art.

Best of all, It's not derivative in the least, because Mann is an updater of a tradition rather than a plunderer of one.