Aimee Mann,
Bachelor No. 2 (or
The Last Remains of the Dodo)

(SuperEgo, 2000)

Consider the following. After reaching Top 40 fame as part of a hit group, an artist chooses to go solo. She later grows frustrated with her record label and its desire to be make her more marketable, so she decides to break away, buy back her songs from the company, and set out on her own. Will the listening public hear from her again, or does she dwindle in the black hole of legal complications and lack of publicity?

Luckily, in the case of Aimee Mann (formerly with 'Til Tuesday), the answer is a resounding no. Mann rebounds from record company hassles with Bachelor No. 2 (or The Last Remains of the Dodo), her third solo album and first independent release. Accompanied by electric guitar licks and husband Michael Penn on backing vocals, she starts off by proclaiming in "How Am I Different?": "I can't do it, I can't conceive everything you're trying to make me believe. This show is too well designed, too well to be held with only me in mind."

Whether she's thumbing her nose at the music business or merely taking on a persona who's heard far too many lines in her life, her biting cynicism sets her apart from the pop divas cracking the charts and going with the flow.

Mann quickly follows up that in-your-face opener with "Nothing is Good Enough," smoothly deprecating her target with "nothing is good enough for people like you" and wondering "wouldn't a smarter man simply walk away" to a gentle waltz-like rhythm (there's even an accordion in the background). The beat belies the lyrics' bitterness yet ironically makes the song radio-friendly.

Actually, most of the songs are radio-friendly, especially for AAA-type radio. "Ghost World" has a gentle melody juxtaposed with electric guitars and lyrics about a bored teenager longing to escape. The almost hypnotic "Calling It Quits" features a lush pop sound, even with the trumpets that suddenly show up on the chorus. "Driving Sideways" invites a sing-along on a "it's really rock, but maybe it wanted to be country" chorus and its matter-of-fact hard-hitting piano-driven rock ballad verses.

A day-dreamy bridge and a catchy chorus make "Red Vines" the kind of song that you sing along to even if you're not quite sure what the lyrics mean. (Perhaps I missed something significant behind "I don't suppose you'd give it a shot, knowing all you've got are cigarettes and red vines.") However, her insightful "would it really spoil everything if you didn't blame yourself" delivers the narrative home. "Susan" is another hum-along with the ultimate revenge lyric, "Someday he will live to regret me," and interesting images appear from lines such as "I chucked my Roman candles goodbye / and watched the vapor trail in the sky." (Known for her rhyming couplets, Mann even plays with internal rhyme on "Satellite," another song with a waltz beat, and its lines "lately it's clear from here / you're losing your atmosphere.")

Co-written with Elvis Costello, "The Fall of the World's Own Optimist" insists that the narrator will "get back up if you insist, but you'll have to ask politely." Mann purposely broke away from a commercial record label and its marketing strategies, and returned as an independent. Perhaps she is the last remains the dodo -- the famous bird that couldn't fly away from its hunters -- it didn't adapt to the changes in its surroundings and went extinct. However, Mann has managed to release an album with commercial overtures breaking through her sharp, cynical lyrics. Maybe it was by accident; perhaps she just happened to write and perform radio-friendly songs without a record label dictating trends and forcing her to fit into an uncomfortable niche. Whatever the cause, extinction seems far off with releases such as Bachelor No. 2.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]

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