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SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

ROCKWiRED REWiND: AiMEE MANN - BACHELOR NO. 2  (2000)

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https://www.rockwired.com/CapitalITimes.jpgt was only the summer of 2000 and already the new millennium felt like a bust. It was my first full year out of college and my days were spent working various temp jobs and my evenings were devoted to playing in a band I had started. Starting a band was what I had wanted to do the most once I got out of college and I had already prepared myself for having to work some job I didn't like in order to help make that silly rock n roll dream a reality. I was young and I knew I could do it but eventually the band broke up after an ugly fistfight and all I was left with was strumming on an acoustic guitar, working a job I hated and drinking too much. Oh 1999 was supposed to be a launching point for me but the last notch of the 20th century wasn't the party that PRINCE predicted. Hell, even STAR WARS came back and that sucked. I complain in retrospect but no one had any idea of the horrors that were just around the corner in terms of a terrorist attack and the shitty millennium that has ensued. At least BLONDIE got back together.

In retrospect a lot of my dissatisfaction with the time had a lot to do with the excitement of being an adult wearing thin. What's fun about paying rent and paying bills and slacking your way through a job? I tried to make it all worthwhile by writing new songs and doing coffeehouse gigs on my own, but it didn't seem to help with feeling cut off from what everyone else around me seemed tapped into – a life that was exciting. And my romantic life was a big, confusing mess. Matters of the heart became a lot more complicated and relationships ended in a mess of alcohol, nightclubs and cigarette smoke – all of the tastes and smells I've come to miss in this global pandemic.

It was at one of my temp jobs as a PBX operator at a children's hospital where I had a revelation. I was flipping through an OSCAR preview issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY between incoming calls and read up on the nominees. I remember absolutely nothing that was nominated that year but when I came across the section for Best Song nominations, I noticed AIMEE MANN was nominated for her song SAVE ME from the P.T. ANDERSON film MAGNOLIA – a film that on the surface didn't look as engaging as BOOGIE NIGHTS and when I rented the thing on VHS I learned that I was right. Anyway, I found the woman's OSCAR nomination intriguing.

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AIMEE MANN was not a name unknown to me. As a child of the eighties I remember the song and music video VOICE'S CARRY by her old band TIL' TUESDAY, but that was the limit of what I knew of that band's musical output. I remember being captivated by the tall, angular, blonde singer whose punk/new wave look brought to mind DARYL HANNAH's renegade robot character PRIS from BLADE RUNNER. The strutting, synth tinged pop tune told the tale of a young woman hushed into silence by an asshole boyfriend. In the music video, MANN was an actress in song living under the tyranny of some black tie/white shirt boyfriend who disapproved of her music making and wanted sex when he wanted it. It is at the video''s conclusion that MANN – the new wave heroine – finds her voice in the balcony of an opera house and sends her villainous beau into retreat. Sadly that was all that my 10 year old self knew of TIL' TUESDAY. VOICES CARRY was a single off their 1985 debut album of the same name. The band would release two more albums, WELCOME HOME (1986) and EVERYTHING'S DIFFERENT NOW (1988), before disbanding. AIMEE MANN's name came up again during my college years when she released the critically acclaimed albums WHATEVER (1993) and I'M WITH STUPID (1995).I only knew of her songwriting genius through reviews in all of the cool music magazines of that time. I was a college student on a budget.

THE MUSiC VIDEO FOR VOiCES CARRY BY TiL' TUESDAY!!!

I can't explain why SAVE ME was a song that I wanted to get a hold of. Perhaps it was her 1970's fashion model look with the long blonde hair and that very piercing gaze of hers that she put to fine use on the video for VOICES CARRY fifteen years earlier. SAVE ME had some airplay on my favorite local station but not a lot so I bought the soundtrack to MAGNOLIA from BORDERS. Not only was I surprised to learn that the soundtrack was mostly performances by MANN, I also learned that the P.T. ANDERSON film was written as a result of this sturdy collection of MANN songs and two SUPERTRAMP songs, much like how the music of SIMON AND GARFUNKEL had informed the MIKE NICHOLS film THE GRADUATE. The soundtrack to MAGNOLIA was my first collection of AIMEE MANN songs I had ever listened to and I fell in love. It ended up not surprising me that MANN's music could inspire the writing of a film given the kind of cinematic quality that her music boasts. Songs such as DEATHLY, DRIVING SIDEWAYS, and YOU DO would go on to be featured on the album in which I'm getting to in this article and those songs will be addressed, but this soundtrack album stands on its own starting with a haunting cover of HARRY NILSSON's ONE followed by the MANN original MOMENTUM which is built on almost the same bluesy march as ONE. And then of course there is SAVE ME, my reason for becoming invested in the artist in the first place. The plaintive tune opens up with a minor chord progression strummed on an acoustic guitar accompanied by strings. With her her first breathy lyric, MANN paints the picture of a broken figure who could use a friend – or at the very least a tourniquet. Two years earlier, alternative rock began embracing more of a sensitive songwriting approach that made stuff like SARAH McLACHLAN and her LILITH FAIR such a success. One could argue that by the turn of the century the acoustic driven songwriter approach was behind the times in a market full of teen pop and LIMP BIZKIT, but the sentiment of a song like SAVE ME was leaps and bounds above other alternative rock songwriters. Let's see JEWEL use a word like “radium” in a lyric as MANN does at SAVE ME's fiery bridge. The song and the accolades signaled a return for MANN to wider public consciousness yet I'm scratching my head at why she lost the OSCAR for Best Song to PHIL COLLINS for some animated TARZAN shit.

THE MUSiC ViDEO FOR SAVE ME!!!

OSCAR or no OSCAR, MANN's increased profile and notoriety helped to shine a light on her career-long quest for autonomy. In the late nineties, MANN was signed to INTERSCOPE RECORDS and had an album already in the can, but the guys from corporate didn't feel that the album was commercial enough for release so the album – which would later become BACHELOR NO. 2 OR, THE LAST REMAINS OF THE DODO – ended up being shelved. In the the couple of years that followed, MANN sought to end her relationship with INTERSCOPE and buy her master recordings back. MANN was subsequently let go from INTERSCOPE and buying back her masters cost a reported six figures. That is one hell of a price for independence but when you consider that twenty years later, MANN is still in the game and still releasing music independently, you can't put a price on artistry. MANN along with former TIL' TUESDAY drummer MICHAEL HAUSSMAN formed MANN's own label SUPEREGO RECORDS and the once shelved album – BACHELOR NO. 2 OR, THE LAST REMAINS OF THE DODO – became a surprise hit in internet sales with 25,000 copies sold and with no major label big wigs eating into the profits.


***


https://www.rockwired.com/CapitalITimes.jpgn a time when boy bands were breaking album sales records and rock sales were languishing, BACHELOR NO. 2 was a release that gave hope to music makers and listeners who craved something more than such juvenilia as NSYNC's BYE BYE BYE. The album cover for NSYNC's album NO STRINGS ATTACHED seemed to indicate that the TIMBERLAKE and the gang were breaking free of being controlled by their porky manager even though I don't think the album signaled the kind of emancipation that the boy band wanted critics and fans to believe. MANN's emancipation was the real thing and BACHELOR NO. 2 was its proclamation – a collection of 13 songs that boast literate and wry lyrics and the kind of grand musical approach that hasn't been appreciated since the days of THE BEATLES or BACHARACH – the latter of whom is a major influence on the sound and feel of this album. Produced by MANN along with JON BRION, MIKE DENNEEN, BUDDY JUDGE and BRENDAN O'BRIEN, BACHELOR NO. 2 not only examined the low points of love and life with unparalleled musicality and elegance, it also let consumers know for the first time that independently released music was something to take seriously. For me, the album was an inspirational feat. It gave me hope as a struggling songwriter trying to make a dent in the music world at the time despite always coming up short, but on a personal level, BACHELOR NO. 2 was an album that made me feel like an adult. Was I supposed to hear anything meaningful in SMASHMOUTH, SUGAR RAY or BLINK 182? And don't get me started on MATCHBOX 20. It was great to sink into some rather sophisticated pop music that dissected human relationships and emotions in an honest way and because of that, BACHELOR NO. 2 gets a big fucking gold star.

HOW AM I DIFFERENT?
The down tempo rocker sets the tone for the glorious album to come. After a couple of bars of a moody guitar progression accompanied by the trinkling of a piano and slow steady drumbeat, MANN emerges as a leery heroine who is not as eager to fall in love aimlessly or foolishly. The dilemma has forced MANN to ask the willing and able Romeo how she's different from every other woman he's had at his side before. The song builds itself up to an incendiary bridge and key change where MANN issues the potent lyric, “When you fuck it up later do I get my money back?” Why the hell are we just now hearing a sentiment like this in the annals of songs that explore the theme of romantic disillusionment? It's that very lyric that serves as the song's fiery outro and before the listener realizes it, they are on board with MANN and the ensuing album.


NOTHING IS GOOD ENOUGH
In the late nineties the music of BURT BACHARACH and HAL DAVID became chic again in large part to a series of rom coms and AUSTIN POWERS films using their music. But I seem to remember BACHARACH getting a true tribute thanks to ELVIS COSTELLO when the two teamed up for the album PAINTING FROM MEMORY. On BACHELOR NO. 2, MANN pays tribute to the man once nicknamed the Playboy of the Western World. NOTHING IS GOOD ENOUGH boasts that signature swinging rhythm of a BACHARACH classic such as WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW, but instead of singing about unity and brotherhood, MANN takes the lush pop landscape and sings of a thankless partnership where every gesture she makes results in fierce criticism. Despite the toxicity being exposed (nobody used that word then, remember?), some elegant strings and a grand piano make the chilly subject matter feel cheery and inviting.


RED VINES
Leave it up to MANN to prick one's bubble when it comes to thinking that love is going to last forever. In RED VINES, the first proper single from BACHELOR NO. 2, MANN is the voyeur watching love bloom between two people while knowing that the odds of the good times lasting forever are nil. Despite being a bit of an ice princess, MANN isn't going to be cynical of such matters. She could be wrong. Maybe. RED VINES is a gentle bit of adult pop that could've found its way onto a TV series soundtrack of some sort since the top 40 at this point seemed to be child's play with no appreciation for how bad love can stink.


THE FALL OF THE WORLD'S OWN OPTIMIST
For three solo albums up to this point, MANN has boasted a literate and signature songcraft. One would wonder why she would need to team up with anyone for songwriting, but if that songwriter happens to be ELVIS COSTELLO, why look a gift horse in the mouth? Built on a groove similar to what was heard on HOW AM I DIFFERENT?, THE FALL OF THE WORLD'S OWN OPTIMIST does the impossible. It makes self-defeatism sound like martyrdom, but with scribers like MANN and COSTELLO, should we be surprised?


SATELLITE
In all of the reviews for BACHELOR NO. 2 at the time (all of them positive by the way), the song SATELLITE attracted special notice with critics pointing out that if the song had been sung DIONNE WARWICK, the BACHARACH inspired tune probably would've been a more glorious moment. Personally, I found that a little dismissive of what MANN is capable of as a vocalist. SATELLITE is a definite high point of the of album. The unassuming ballad opens with a lone bouncing piano progression until MANN chimes in with the song's first haunting lines. When the song gets to its chorus a rhythm section and strings elevate the song to new heights as the singer songwriter acknowledges she can't change a lover's mind about what he views as her cruel intentions.



DEATHLY

DEATHLY was a song featured on the soundtrack for MAGNOLIA. Its opening line, “Now that I've met you would you object never seeing each other again!”, was even spoken in the film by MELORA WALTERS' character. It sounded lame on screen but in song, what better way was there to kick a blistering ballad off into orbit. DEATHLY eschews the classy pop approach for a rootsier sound until a scorching guitar solo sends the song into power ballad territory and that's not a bad thing. I would actually put this number about getting out of the hot seat of romance above the OSCAR-nominated SAVE ME.


CALLING IT QUITS
Coming from an artist who has finally been able to release an album on her own terms, you would think that BACHELOR NO. 2 would've been a more joyous affair that wasn't as preoccupied with romantic disillusionment, but who the hell wants to hear this singer-songwriter being happy. CALLING IT QUITS opens with the line, “He's the serious master / Shake his hand and he'll twist your arm.” MANN could always spot a narcissist a mile away but something tells me this song is more about the toxic machinations of the music industry that she left behind to pursue her own artistic ambitions. The chorus may sound self-defeating but CALLING IT QUITS is the closest thing BACHELOR NO. 2 has to a victory march.


DRIVING SIDEWAYS
For anyone who is navigating a tough relationship, MANN is the best friend that anyone could have and the bluesy stroll of DRIVING SIDEWAYS proves it. In song MANN reaches out to a guy who can't do anything right for his nag of girlfriend who thinks she's right all of the time. It's nice to see that some of the narcissists in MANN's tales of romantic discord are women.



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https://www.rockwired.com/CapitalWTimes.jpgith 25,000 copies sold via the internet, MANN's BACHELOR NO. 2 was making a stir in a music industry that was coming up on a time marked by file sharing and all of huffing and puffing over NAPSTER. The devaluing of music was something many saw on the horizon and flying in the face of that were the unexpected sales of MANN's maiden voyage as a music entrepreneur with the launch of her own SUPEREGO RECORDS. Guys like me who had no internet connection just yet (it was 2000, give me a break!) had to wait for for the album to be available in stores and thanks to a distribution deal through V2, BACHELOR NO. 2 finally hit stores and sold over 200,000 copies. In 2008, NIELSEN SOUNDSCAN confirmed that the album has sold 230,000 copies. And of course critical acclaim was everywhere. I'll start with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY'S A- review.

“Mann’s voice — a warm breeze with a cool undercurrent — can still be too imperturbable for her own good, and I kept wondering if ”Satellite” would have sounded more transcendent sung by Dionne Warwick. Still, Bachelor No. 2 is a reminder of how pleasurable it is to hear a singer simply sing and not overexert herself. If you’re of the mind that the barbarians are at the gates of pop, the album will be the sound of salvation. If you don’t feel that way, Bachelor No. 2 can still be appreciated on its own modest terms: as an attractive magnolia in a forest of many different, and equally appealing, trees.”

The often-gushing DAVE WILD of ROLLING STONE said this in his four-star interview:

“Before the release of the Magnolia soundtrack, Aimee Mann was undervalued for years by the music business. So her independently released latest effort, Bachelor No. 2, could also be called Sounding Great Is the Best Revenge. It's an album of tuneful, intimate pop-rock songs, a few of which ("Driving Sideways," "Deathly" and "You Do") will be familiar to Magnolia fans. The highs -- including "The Fall of the World's Own Optimist," a collaboration with Elvis Costello, and the exquisite "Red Vines" -- are stunning. There are also some understandably nasty notes to music-biz schmucks, such as the catchy "Calling It Quits" and "Nothing Is Good Enough," which contains perhaps the lowest blow of all: "Critics at their worst/Could never criticize/The way that you do." Your heart almost goes out to the record business -- but not quite."

BACHELOR NO. 2 is the album that found its place on my CD rack between THE BEATLES' WHITE ALBUM and the first ever PRETENDERS album. It was a go-to album for me during the the more chaotic moments of this relatively new century. With MANN's artistry and entrepreneurship right where she wanted it, I was more than looking forward to her follow up album. Unfortunately, 2002's LOST IN SPACE didn't move me in the same way, but the NPR crowd and all of the right publications showered critical hosannas on the thing.  Five albums have been released since LOST IN SPACE  and all of them were through MANN's SUPEREGO RECORDS so MANN's endeavor needs to a applauded. She'even won some GRAMMYS along the way. One was for BEST RECORDING PACKAGE for the 2006 album THE FORGOTTEN ARM and the other was for BEST FOLK ALBUM for her 2018 album MENTAL ILLNESS. MANN is control of the music career that she has always wanted. I haven't explored all of the other recordings from the SUPEREGO catalog after LOST IN SPACE, but BACHELOR NO. 2 will hold that special place in my heart for its lyrical and musical sophistication.


FOR MORE iNFORMATiON GO TO:
https://www.aimeemann.com/


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http://www.rockwired.com/CapitalB.jpgrian Lush is a music industry professional and entrepreneur. In 2005 he launched the online music site Rockwired.com to help promote new music artists in conjunction with the weekly radio show Rockwired Live which aired on KTSTFM.COM from 2005 - 2009. In 2010 He launched the daily podcast series Rockwired Radio Profiles which features exclusive interviews and music. He has also developed and produced the online radio shows Jazzed and Blue - Profiles in Blues and Jazz, Aboriginal Sounds - A Celebration of American Indian and First Nations Music, The Rockwired Rock N Roll Mixtape Show and The Rockwired Artist of the Month Showcase. In 2012, Brian Lush and his company Rockwired Media LLC launched the monthly digital online publication Rockwired Magazine. The magazine attracts over 75,000 readers a month and shows no signs of stopping. Rockwired Magazine also bares the distinction of being the first American Indian-owned rock magazine. Brian Lush is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Brian Lush's background in music journalism, radio and podcast hosting, podcast production, web design, publicity, advertising sales, social media and online marketing, strategic editorial planning and branding have all made Rockwired a name that is trusted and respected throughout the independent music industry.

CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: djlush@rockwired.com

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