Copyright 1996 Daily News, L.P.  
Daily News (New York)

January 30, 1996, Tuesday

SECTION: New York Now; Pg. 32

LENGTH: 464 words




AIMEE MANN "I'm With Stupid" (DGC) 4 Discs

EVERYONE LIES ON Aimee Mann's new album: Friends, lovers, business associates, the press. The sole honorable person Mann can find, she paints as a sweet fool. "Don't you know you're a f-----freak in this world," she sings of a man who not only wants to do good work but who, worse still, believes in love.

So the woman has trust issues. Certainly, her experience in the music business hasn't helped any. Originally coming to the fore as frontwoman for the one-hit wonder band 'Til Tuesday (remember "Voices Carry"?), Mann went on to become one of the industry's most fumbled gems. With near-biblical resonance, Mann spent the last seven years wandering in a desert of evaporating record companys, managing to squeeze out just one previous solo album 1993's terrifically bitter "Whatever."

Last summer, after scores of delays, the doomed Imago label planned to release her second solo work, "I'm With Stupid." After another seven months on ice, that album finally lands on DGC. (Mannheadlines Irving Plaza this Thursday.)

The record is so great, the industry should be brought up on collective charges for keeping it from the public for so long.

All 13 tracks boast melodies gorgeous and tricky enough to impress the Beatles, not to mention lyrics wicked and bitter enough to make Elvis Costello seem devil-may-care.

Musically, the songs take their cues from "Sgt. Pepper" and "Abbey Road." They're dense, with clever George Martin-like arrangements, unmarred by the slavishly retro approach of Jeff Lynne.

Give credit to producer/musician Jon Brion for that. He fiddled most inventively with the album's guitar sounds, creating scores of clever filigrees.

From the shimmering guitar lines in "Long Shot" to the liquid effects in "That's Just What You Are," Brion helped hone Mann's role as an old-fashioned '60s pop formalist even if that role couldn't fall further from current fashion. Anyone who cares about how guitar arrangements can move a song along has to hear this.

The power of Mann's singing takes more time to sink in. She lacks a big voice, but she's always emotionally on-pitch especially in a stripped acoustic ballad like "Ray."

The breathy hurt in Mann's vocals locates a vulnerability that her lyrics lack. Were her words sung by more sneering voices, like, say, Graham Parker or Joe Jackson, they could well come off as poisonous or self-serving. But Mann gains sympathy by boasting a voice that seems only to have found its strength after the other party has done significant damage.

If, in her wanderings in the world, Mann only turns up cads and users, at least her droll humor and her way with a comeback line humanize her. For Mann, writing well is the best revenge.

GRAPHIC: VOICES DO CARRY: Aimee Mann returns with a solid solo effort.