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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Aimee Mann: I'm With Stupid


1) Long Shot; 2) Choice In The Matter; 3) Sugarcoated; 4) You Could Make A Killing; 5) Superball; 6) Amateur; 7) All Over Now; 8) Par For The Course; 9) You're With Stupid Now; 10) That's Just What You Are; 11) Frankenstein; 12) Ray; 13) It's Not Safe.

I think lyrically, this album is a step forward because this time around there are two main lyrical themes rather than one: "I'm So Pissed Off At My Boyfriend Of Long Ago" occasionally alterna­tes with "I'm So Pissed Off At My Record Label Of Not So Long Ago". Not for one second do I believe that these particular subjects worry or should worry you, the reader, so let us treat them the way they should be treated: hollow pretexts to make moody music that has an equal probabi­lity chance of being inspiring or being fucked up. Incidentally, almost every review of this album that I've seen makes a big point of the album's first lyrical line going 'you fucked it up', but it's hard to understand what the fuss is about: this is 1995, not 1965. Maybe it's the sweet little girl aura of Aimee's and the tender tone in which it is being pronounced that befuddles the writers.

Overall, I'm With Stupid is Whatever Vol. 2, but with most of the sissy twelve-string jangle extricated and replaced with grungier guitars and power-enhanced chords — to sound more "mo­dern", I guess. The poor duped Roger McGuinn makes no more guest appearances, and it shows. When this album is at its worst — which, fortunately, is very rare — it's hard to distinguish the proceedings from zillions of results by billions of female artists with broken hearts and broken electric guitars wasting away taxpayers' money. Maybe no one would say that in 1995, but 'fif­teen years after the fair' it shows rather painfully, I'm afraid.

On the other hand, billions of female artists still don't got what Aimee's got, and that's an ability to write a soul-catching melody. After I've distanced myself from the lyrics of 'Sugarcoated' and managed to imagine the song in a more interesting arrangement, I am overwhelmed by its power and melodicity, reminiscent of Lennon's later-years style. 'Ray' is even better, its sweet melancho­lia finding perfect support from the electric piano in the background (yes, despite all the moder­nistic trappings, it is the sharp ringing of that piano that stands out as the most memorable sonic moment on the entire album). 'You're With Stupid Now' is a rare gem of an acoustic ballad here, and also a rare case when you can detach the chorus — 'what you want, you don't know, you're with stupid now, so on with the show' — from its surroundings, provide it with your own meaning, however deep you want to make it, and find it all the more beautiful.

Besides, my quibbles mostly lie with the rhythmic backbones of the songs: lead guitar work on most of them is as powerful as ever, with colorful solos planned and laid out just as expressively as the vocal melodies. (Sometimes they take on a slightly atonal, avantgarde manner, but only when the song might beg for it, as in the intentionally bizarre 'Frankenstein' — a metaphoric tune, of course, but ending in a truly Frankensteinish near-cacophony of street organ music crossed with free jazz at the end). I do not like the opening of 'Superball' at all, but once it unfurls all of its banners, I end caught up in the fun.

Who knows, maybe some day Aimee will want to re-record the album, or at least parts of it, using an approach that panders less to current trends on the market (even if those trends weren't all that bad in 1995). Then again, everything should probably stand as a document of its time; if we can enjoy those early Duran Duran records, there's no reason why simplistic grungy guitars should cause our conscience to lump a gifted songwriter like Mann with all the inferior substitutes. Thumbs up, thumbs up, by all means. The picky brain is always hard to please, but, fortunately, the sappy heart always takes precedence over the sucker.

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