Copyright 1996 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

February 02, 1996, Friday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 378 words

HEADLINE: Smart Pop Vocals Of Mann's 'Stupid'

BYLINE: Geoffrey Himes

AIMEE MANN has been battling record companies for most of the past seven years. She was the singer and songwriter for 'Til Tuesday, the Boston band that started out with a hit on MTV and wound up fighting Epic over Mann's quieter, more subtle songs. She didn't record between 1988 and 1993 as she struggled to leave Epic. She eventually signed with Imago, which released her superb solo debut, "Whatever," and then lost its distribution deal. Mann finally released "I'm With Stupid" this year with Geffen. The new album is filled with recriminations over failed relationships, which can easily be read as her dealings with the music biz, but the tone isn't so much angry as it is muted, weary and disillusioned, as if she were bruised but wiser.

As such, it lacks the Beatles-Byrds buoyancy that made "Whatever" such a pop treat. Mann has a real gift for catchy melodies, and they're present here, but they aren't as reinforced with harmonies as they have been on earlier outings. She continues to mature as a singer, however, and her dark, knowing vocals carry her new songs in the absence of more obvious pleasures. Working once again with producer, co-writer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, Mann has fashioned an appealing example of intellectual-pop in the mode of former collaborator Elvis Costello or Squeeze, whose Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford lend vocal harmonies to two numbers on the new release.

"That's Just What You Are," with its winning blend of skillful put-downs and pop hooks, has already been a modest hit single, thanks to its inclusion on the TV soundtrack, "Melrose Place -- The Music." Offering a similar blend of melodic seduction and verbal skewering are "Frankenstein" and "Choice in the Matter." Former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who's had his own problems with the biz, helped her write and play the loud-and-distorted "Sugarcoated," while Juliana Hatfield adds her trademark vocal innocence to "You Could Make a Killing." Mann's composition, "Amateur," however, is a transparent rewrite of Randy Newman's "I've Been Wrong Before."

AIMEE MANN -- "I'm With Stupid" (DGC). Appearing Tuesday at the Bayou with Semisonic. To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8122.