Back when she was a major-label artist, Aimee Mann took an insufferably long time between albums. It wasn’t that she lacked new material; rather, Mann would release a record, then spend the next few years in court extricating herself from her commitment to a label that clearly had no idea how to market her. After her most recent battle with DGC, Mann decided to go it alone, releasing 2000’s Bachelor No. 2 on her own SuperEgo Records. The album, coupled with Mann’s Grammy-nominated work on the Magnolia soundtrack, brought the success her previous labels had promised but failed to deliver.
Now comes Lost In Space, which sticks close to the musical formula that made its predecessor such a critical and artistic triumph. The album continues Mann’s movement away from her power-pop past and toward a quieter yet equally edgy acoustic-pop sound that owes a clear debt to both Burt Bacharach and the Beatles. The latter’s influence is most obvious in the instrumentation: The guitars, in particular, sound like they were plucked right off All Things Must Pass. This time out, Mann has taken a few more sonic chances, adding odd snippets of ancient-sounding electronica that wouldn’t sound out of place on Pere Ubu’s Dub Housing among the atmospherics.
Mann has always had a tremendous facility for raucous uptempo pop (check out her first solo masterpiece, Whatever), but with each succeeding album the ballads claim a greater share of the spotlight. “Invisible Ink”, “This Is How It Goes”, and the closing track “It’s Not” are all understated, delicate highlights on Lost In Space.
As always, Mann’s lyrics focus on life’s disappointments, recounted from a bemused but melancholic perspective. As in most pop music, what redemption exists is in the melodies. And the melodies here are gorgeous enough that they can make lines such as “All the perfect drugs and superheroes/Wouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero” seem somehow uplifting.