In interviews Paul Thomas Anderson has admitted that he wrote the critically acclaimed Magnolia as an “adaptation of Aimee Mann songs.” The soundtrack of the movie consisted almost entirely of Mann songs and as a review in Salon aptly puts it, the songs “are ravishing and crisp…glisteningly polished, without being too glossy.” Yet Mann’s name is not as familiar as it should be for an artist who first rose to stardom in the 80’s. Why? Well to find out we turned to The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, which has quickly become our favorite reference source. Check out Mann’s entry in the EPM below.
Mann, Aimee b. 8 September 1960, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Having begun performing with the punk-inspired Young Snakes, Aimee Mann achieved recognition during the mid-80s as the lead vocalist of the critically acclaimed ’Til Tuesday. Frustrated with the industry trying to push a more mainstream approach—and suggesting that writers outside the band should contribute material—Mann left for a solo career in 1990.
Released in 1993, Whatever was a remarkable set, drawing rave reviews and the generous plaudits of Elvis Costello, with whom she had previously collaborated on the ’Til Tuesday track, ‘The Other End (Of The Telescope)’. A literate and skilled composer, Mann attacked the corporate music business on ‘I’ve Had It’ and detailed estrangement and heartbreak on ‘I Should’ve Known’ and ‘I Know There’s A Word’ (allegedly concerning her former relationship with Jules Shear). Former Byrds guitarist Roger McGuinn was persuaded to contribute distinctive 12-string backing on a set reviving pop’s traditions of melody and chorus, while placing them in an unquestionably contemporary context.
Imago Records fell apart after Whatever appeared, and after a lengthy battle with the label Mann signed to Geffen Records. 1995’s I’m With Stupid still appeared to carry emotional baggage from the Shear relationship, although musically the album was a more mellow and relaxed affair. In 1998, Mann married songwriter Michael Penn, made a walk-on appearance in the Coen brothers’ movie The Big Lebowski, and completed the recording of her new album. When Geffen was swallowed up by Interscope, Mann started being pressurised by her new bosses to make the album more commercial. She escaped the corporate clutches of the new Universal empire by buying back the rights to her album and gaining a release from her contract.
In 1999, she released the limited edition Bachelor No. 2 EP, a taster for the following year’s album of the same name. Nine of her new songs also featured heavily on the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
Freed from the constraints of a major label, Mann forged ahead with her second album of the new millennium. Opening with the glorious pop rush of ‘Humpty Dumpty’, Lost In Space was another collection of supremely well-crafted adult pop. The artist’s next release, The Forgotten Arm, revolved around the concept of two lovers on the run and took its unusual title from an obscure boxing term.
Want to learn more about the EPM? Read last week’s excerpt about Mos Def , or the excerpt from two weeks ago about Scofield. Check out what albums Colin Larkin, editor of the EPM, hates, and the pop-music quiz parts one, two and three. Or read Larkin’s take on CD cover design.