Copyright 2000 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

February 2, 2000, Wednesday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 611 words

HEADLINE: Singer Aimee Mann: Love's Labors Lamented; Director's Muse Still Edgy in 'Bachelor No. 2'

BYLINE: Mike Joyce, Special to The Washington Post


In the liner notes to his film soundtrack "Magnolia," director Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledges a huge debt to singer-songwriter Aimee Mann. Had he not listened to Mann's music in the summer of 1997, Anderson wouldn't have found the inspiration to write "Magnolia." It was as if she were "articulating feelings and ideas better than I ever could and I wanted to rip her off," Anderson confesses.

The director goes on to extol Mann's virtues as a songwriter, calling her "the great articulator of the biggest things we think about: 'How can anyone love me?' 'Why the hell would anyone love me?' and the old favorite 'Why would I love anyone when all it means is torture?' "

Mann is still asking those questions. They surface time and again on "Bachelor No. 2" (Superego), her third and most provocative solo release. While several songs on the album also appear on the "Magnolia" soundtrack (Reprise), "Bachelor No. 2" has plenty of sharp edges of its own.

Indeed, the qualities that Anderson finds so appealing about Mann's songwriting--the candor, the nerve, the vivid and often unforgiving characterizations--are apparent throughout the album, a song cycle that examines the cost of love.

Beginning with the opening track, "How Am I Different," Mann dismisses outright the notion of happy endings, at least as far as her love life is concerned. "What do you care about the great divide," she asks a potential mate, "as long as you come down on the winning side?"

On the following tune, a bitter ballad called "Nothing Is Good Enough," Mann sounds like Pretender Chrissie Hynde as she kisses off a lover-turned-foe: "Critics at their worst could never criticize the way that you do/ No, there's no one else I find to undermine or dash a hope like you."

Mann, the former 'Til Tuesday vocalist, may be happily married now--to singer-songwriter Michael Penn--but she continues to write as if she were determined to stay single and sane. Which is why most of the songs on "Bachelor" find Mann piercing illusions, sidestepping snares and ridiculing fools who keep making the same mistakes over again, herself included.

Like "Magnolia," "Bachelor No. 2" isn't a pretty picture, but it's filled with images and scenarios that are hard to forget.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)

Michael Penn: 'MP4' Where Mann's tone is often caustic and cutting, Michael Penn occasionally settles for cute on his new release, "MP4 (Days Since a Lost Time Accident)" (Epic). Just how arbitrary, silly and predictable can Penn's rhyme schemes get? It's hard to beat this verse from "Lucky One," the album's opening track: "Things got bad, things got worse/ I got loaded in a hearse/ All I needed was a nurse/ Believe me, I'm not lying."

The good news is that Penn's pop instincts seldom fail him. As disposable as some of his songs are, nearly all of them are redeemed by smart orchestrations, including a few that imaginatively celebrate the influence of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. What's more, when Penn contributes a lyric that's truly worth hearing more than once, such as the Lennonesque musing on "Whole Truth" and the brooding ballad "Bucket Brigade," the album's flaws suddenly seem rather slight and excusable.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8154.)

Aimee Mann and Michael Penn perform Sunday and Monday at the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis and Tuesday and Feb. 22 at the Birchmere in Alexandria.

Aimee Mann, "the great articulator of the biggest things we think about," says "Magnolia" director Paul Thomas Anderson.