Copyright 1999 Time-Warner, Inc.
December 13, 1999
LENGTH: 498 words
HEADLINE: The Sweet Sound of Magnolia: Aimee Mann's tales of romantic distress find emotionally satisfying release on a vibrant new sound track
BYLINE: David E. Thigpen
When word leaked that Aimee Mann was recording the sound track to director Paul Thomas Anderson's hotly awaited film Magnolia, it was hard to know which was the bigger surprise: that a maverick songwriter from pop's margins had landed such a plum job, or that Mann was releasing anything at all.
To understand Mann's place in the pop universe, imagine, if you would, crossing Kurt Cobain with Emily Dickinson. Their offspring-- literate, bitingly introspective, deeply contemptuous of money and fame-- would be a lot like Aimee Mann. Because of hard luck and an incurable case of artistic independence, the gifted Los Angeles folk-pop soloist has been left untouched by the wave of acclaim that buoyed Jewel, Tori Amos and the Lilith crowd.
In two solo albums of exceptionally beautiful tunes and casually caustic commentary on the pitfalls of romantic relationships, Mann, 39, has remained a cult-size pleasure. Timing has been her enemy. Whatever, her fine 1993 solo debut, came out just as her record label, Imago Records, hit the financial skids. Her next album, I'm With Stupid, languished in legal limbo until Geffen Records released it-- two years late. And early this year it looked as if the curse might strike again: as Mann neared completion of a new work, Bachelor No. 2, Geffen merged with Interscope Records, whose executives ordered her back into the studio to come up with a hit single.
That request left Mann "beyond not interested." To get out of her contract, she had to buy back her own master tapes. "I had had it,"she explains. "Now I understand what Prince went through. I was ready to cheerfully quit the business forever." Fortunately, this is when Paul Thomas Anderson stepped in. While writing the script for Magnolia, Anderson heard a tape of some of Mann's new songs and like them so much he began building characters around them. Claudia, the lonely cokehead played by Melora Walters, was inspired by the song "Deathly." "Everything [Aimee] seemed to be thinking were things that I was thinking," the Boogie Nights auteur writes in Magnolia's liner notes. Mann's songs were inadvertently attuned to Anderson's central theme: emotional rescue.
The result of this symbiosis is Music from the Motion Picture Magnolia (Reprise), Mann's first release in four years. It includes eight new songs in a curvaceous, melodically rich style evocative of Burt Bacharach and the Beatles. Two of the best songs, "You Do" and "Save Me," Mann wrote for Magnolia; other were lifted from bachelor No. 2, to be released next year on her new indie label, SuperEgo. Magnolia may be the best thing to have happened to sound tracks since Mike Nichols sat down with Simon and Garfunkle and came up with The Graduate. While it's unlikely to put an end to the star-packed sound tracks so popular now, Magnolia should bring wider exposure to a songwriting talent full of the soulfulness that today's commercially obsessed pop so often lacks and so badly needs.