Mann, Does This Sound Better Than the Original!

Aimee Mann’s pensive, surreal walk through a littered landscape of love gone wrong, double dealings, temptations (drugs and otherwise) and painful breakups (not hers— she’s still married to Michael Penn last time I checked) owes a great deal conceptually and lyrically to Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom—at least to my ears. You can almost hear El singing “Guys Like Me” and “Invisible Ink.”

Mann’s ambitious, dramatic word play is easy to lose because of her dreamy, almost detached emotional demeanor. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself getting lost in producers Lockwood and Freeland’s low rent, but ingenious and devastatingly effective production, which they describe in illuminating detail in the liner notes.

Losing contact with the words happened to me repeatedly as I listened—even as I vowed to stay focused on Mann’s lyrical thread. It has to do with her even- tempered phrasing, oddly detached delivery, and her tendency to go down on key phrases and almost swallow her words, instead of launching them against the musical thread.

Mann’s love for, and debt to The Beatles, and especially to George Harrison’s Abbey Road era guitar playing, frame the musical terrain of this thoughtful, tuneful set, but if you’re a Beck fan you’ll have no trouble imagining that he heard “Today’s the Day” and was inspired to create both the sonic and emotional groundwork that delivered his sterling Sea Changes album. If that album had sold better, Mann and the producers would have been entitled to a cut!

On the opening tune, the wistful “Humpty Dumpty,” listen to both the guitar’s tone and the lick played after she sings “…so get out while you can…” as well as the next sweeping figure, and you’ll easily imagine that Harrison’s playing. If that doesn’t do it, the final held note and fade out—right out of the Abbey Road bag of tricks will.

Basic tracks and the rich overlay of overdubbed effects were recorded in an apartment, and it’s difficult to believe they were recorded analog, though it’s possible. In whatever form the multiple tracks existed, the final mix was accomplished analog, and the results, if not “audiophile quality” are sonically satisfying. Overall production is intimate and dry—especially the drums—not surprising given the apartment venue. Studio sourced strings augment some of the arrangements, giving the production a rich, varied sheen. The mix itself is masterfully accomplished, with the complex components melding effectively into a coherent sonic whole.

Give Mobile Fidelity a 30 IPS 1/2” analog master tape and they can come up with this kind of stunning sonic turnaround of an album that sounded gauzy and absolutely unpleasant on its original 2002 SuperEgo Records CD release.

In place of the original’s indistinct, hazy picture, the reissue offers a clarified, focused picture, with round, three dimensional images and a rhythmic tautness absent from the original CD. Good as the hybrid SACD is, the gatefold LP issue simply creams it. If I have any criticism of the LP set, it’s the packaging and reproduction of the artwork—it’s simply not up to snuff given the LP’s cost. I’m sure Mo-Fi’s having trouble making money on vinyl and we should all be glad that they’re making the effort so please don’t let that minor criticism stop you from buying.

I’ve gotten some complaints from readers about RTI pressing quality—especially in terms of noise, but my sample, which came sealed, was flat and silent.

Lost in Space is an album filled with thoughtful, powerful tunes set against richly crafted backdrops. If Mann’s delivery isn’t quite up to the emotional power of the songs she’s written, it’s good enough to get the job done, and you’ll find yourself coming back to the album again and again (especially if your loved one’s got you down), only to discover musical, lyrical and sonic nooks and crannies you’ve previously overlooked. Highly recommended! So, Mo-Fi, how about Michael Penn’s now classic, and sadly overlooked gem March? And while I’m at it, let’s hope for Elvis Costello’s redo of Mann’s album, backed by The Attractions!