Monday, June 26, 2006

Vinyl Tap: 'Til Tuesday - Everything's Different Now

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #5:

Swan song and springboard, 1988's Everything’s Different Now was the third and last 'Til Tuesday album for a group who couldn’t match the commercial success of their first hit single and album, Voices Carry, three years earlier. At the same time, Everything also showcased just how far Aimee Mann, digging in her heels at joining in on the formulaic ’80s synth-pop parade passing by and into oblivion, had come in the development of her ever-promising songwriting craft. It comprised a trajectory that would take her to points beyond with her rewarding solo career - marked by impeccable, precise lyrical richness and with a harder-edged and alternately infectious and starkly dark melodic sensibility.

The strength of Everything lies in its melancholy and pointed, bittersweet poignancy. The title song perfectly encapsulates the emotional pendulum swings when love and loss so color our world, but Mann gets more to the heart of the matter in “Rip In Heaven” with her to-the-skies declaration that the “present must contain a future where both of us can fit.” And you’ll soon know if the sentiments are ill-suited:

    So long and sorry, darling
    I was counting to forever
    And never even got to ten
    So long and sorry, darling
    When we found a rip in heaven
    We should have just ascended then.

Envious of those people who can seek and attain solace with “bourbon or God,” (“Why Must I”), Mann touches upon such either/or extremes with her confessional portraits -- personal, intimate songs some may call soul-baring, others self-indulgent. In “'J' For Jules” Mann fixates upon her break-up with musician and songwriter Jules Shear, wearing her sorrow on her sleeve:

    You know I'll miss you
    and thus it begins
    but I'll release you
    and thus it continues --
    Someday we'll be happy again
    Someday we'll be happy again
    Someday we'll be happy again...

As if wishing could make it so. In “(Believed You Were) Lucky,“ Mann is just as visceral in the incantatory power with which she reiterates the anguish of separation and the futility that comes from "pushing, when it's all uphill." And you know for certain, after a parting that is more bitter than sweet sorrow, that she questions whether she'll indeed be happy again:

    I wish you: Belief in Life
    Belief in Fate
    Belief you are lucky
    and worth the wait
    'cause life could be lovely
    Life could be fucking great.

The woulda shoulda coulda sense of possibility that marks the devilishly lilting and wistful “The Other End Of The Telescope,” written with Elvis Costello, sees the poignancy packing a punch as the vicissitudes of hope springs tenuously eternal, and such wishes and beliefs become a gamble, but with a glimmer:

    Shall we agree that just this once
    I'm gonna change my life
    until it's just as tiny or
    important as you like
    and in time, we won't even recall that we spoke,
    Words that turned out to be as big as smoke
    like smoke, disappears in the air

    there's always something smoldering somewhere.

Yet as Mann in the same song ponders the what-if of it -- will "the head and heart of it finally elope“? -- she considers the quandary and poses a clue: “The answer was under your nose / but the question never arose.”

A query the 'Til Tuesday leader almost dutifully asks and answers -- in almost the same breath -- on the upbeat last song of Everything’s Different Now -- “How Can You Give Up?” “You ought to know love is hard to find,“ she tells herself, but there’s no doubt she’s up to the task. It’s a predictable course of action, of course, a burst of affirmation in line with the best of American pop-rock. But, after all the turmoil and misgivings, when we know where Aimee Mann’s head and heart is, it gives us heart and hope.


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