Copyright 2000 Pacific Press Ltd.  
The Vancouver Sun

February 14, 2000, Monday, FINAL

SECTION: Entertainment; B7 / Front

LENGTH: 754 words

HEADLINE: Singer-songwriter refuses to become musically extinct

BYLINE: Simon Hirschfeld


   NEW YORK - Aimee Mann, a singer and songwriter who has toiled in the margins of the mainstream music business, refuses to go the way of the dodo bird.

Despite years of fighting record companies to be allowed to write songs for their own sake, without worrying about topping the charts, she is staving off artistic extinction thanks in part to a fruitful collaboration with film director Paul Thomas Anderson.

''I find the dodo's story very appealing and I sort of identified with the dodo at one point when I felt like the singer-songwriter was a dying breed,'' she said from her home in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, musician Michael Penn (brother of actor Sean).

Fans of Mann, 39, will finally be able to hear her long- delayed third solo record, the first since the 1996 release of I'm With Stupid. Called Bachelor No. 2 and subtitled the last remains of the dodo, it will initially be available at shows and her Web site (http://www.aimeemann. com).

As ever, her biting lyrics can often be read as an indictment of her record-label struggles.

''He's a serious mister, shake his hand and he'll twist your arm/With monopoly money we'll be buying the funny farm/So I'll do flips and get paid in chips from the diamond as big as the ritz/Then I'm calling it quits,'' she sings on the new record over Beatle-esque orchestration.

The soundtrack to Anderson's Magnolia, an epic of lost souls with an ensemble cast that includes Tom Cruise, Jason Robards and Julianne Moore, contains nine Mann songs, several of them from the new album.

Anderson wrote the movie as ''an adaptation of Aimee Mann songs,'' he says in notes to the soundtrack. Already friends, they began to exchange ideas as he wrote the movie and she worked on new material.

''Everything she seemed to be thinking were things that I was thinking,'' he said.

''I don't know if I would've known unless he told me, besides the fact that he quotes one of my songs in the dialogue of the movie,'' Mann said. (''Now that we've met, would you object to never seeing each other again?'' Mann asks in Deathly, a line echoed by a character in Magnolia.) But she agrees that both her songs and the film deal with similar character types. Asked to characterize them, she says: ''Chaotic, sad, lonely, desperate, pitiful, brave, all of it.'' Alive, in other words. Mann takes pride in writing songs that reflect life, as she views it, without oversimplifying.

She cannot say the same for mainstream American tastes.

''I think the national psyche is becoming more narcissistic because people are becoming more and more immersed in the world of TV and movies and getting much more of their ideas and philosophies from TV and movies that bolster this unrealistic mythology about the way the world works,'' she said.

Although she has devout fans and has been a critical favourite, some remember Mann only from Voices Carry, her hit with 1980s synth-pop band 'Til Tuesday, which went to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985 as her then spiky-haired blond image graced television screens through heavy airplay on the MTV music channel.

It was one of the first songs she ever wrote completely, Mann says.

For the second album, 'Til Tuesday switched to what Mann says were more sophisticated acoustic-pop tunes, which perplexed their label, Epic Records.

Mann recorded three albums with 'Til Tuesday for Epic and then left over creative differences as the band dissolved. It took three years for her to get out of her contract, during which Epic would not let her record elsewhere or release new material. In 1991, she released her first solo album, Whatever, on independent label Imago. Then, before she could release her second, Imago began to go under, and again the label's owner would neither release her from her contract or put out the record.

I'm With Stupid was finally released in 1996 after it was sold to Geffen Records. Then, as she began work on material for her third solo record, Seagram Co. bought Polygram's musical holdings, including Geffen, and folded them into its Universal Music to create the world's largest record company.

Mann was among the artists orphaned by the deal.

She is releasing Bachelor No. 2 on her own SuperEgo Records after buying much of the material back from Interscope, the Universal unit to which she was shuttled after the merger.

Magnolia, both the movie and the soundtrack, have won praise from critics, and Mann just kicked off a spate of concerts with her husband.

GRAPHIC: CP Color Photo: MUSIC MANN: Aimee Mann has fought record companies to make music the way she wants.