Album of the Week, August 25: Lost In Space by Aimee Mann

MannLostAimee Mann first came to fame as the leader of ’til tuesday, an impressive band that got stuck with the One Hit Wonder label. After three progressively stronger albums — increasingly showcasing Mann’s powerful observations and sensitive vocals — the band dissolved. Mann pursued a solo career beset by challenges. She recorded Whatever for Imago, a label that ceased to exist not long after the album was released. She moved to Geffen for I’m With Stupid, another strong set. Frustrated with the label’s lack of support and demands for “more commercial” material, she sought an exit. At the same time, her songs were selected as the backdrop for the film Magnolia. That opportunity increased her profile and her confidence. Her best songs have always been cinematic snapshots, and the showcase was perfect. She lifted some of the songs, started her own label (with the tongue-in-cheek name SuperEgo), and released her third solo album, Bachelor No. 2. She took two years to craft the follow-up, her solo masterpiece Lost In Space.

Title Lost In Space
Act Aimee Mann
Label SuperEgo Release Date August 27, 2002
Producer Mike Denneen, Ryan Freeland and Michael Lockwood
U.S. Chart  35 U.K. Chart  72
Tracks
  1. Humpty Dumpty
  2. High On Sunday 51
  3. Lost In Space
  4. This Is How It Goes
  5. Guys Like Me
  6. Pavlov’s Bell
  7. Real Bad News
  8. Invisible Ink
  9. Today’s the Day
  10. The Moth
  11. It’s Not

Lost In Space is a magnificent statement of isolation — even when in company — and the journeys we take to overcome it. Delightfully illustrated by Seth, the packaging serves to emphasize the themes and provides something of an existential travelogue. As with all her best work, Lost In Space features wry observations, witty wordplay, deep insights, and biting commentary. All of it is delivered with Mann’s quiet but expressive vocals and supported by her sympathetic, understated guitar work and a nice array of supporting musicians.

Things kick off with one of her best songs, Humpty Dumpty. It opens with the question “What if you were split in fragments and none of the pieces would talk to you?” Nothing could be a finer introduction to this journey. With explicit driving references and glorious imagery, Mann dissects a broken person and a broken relationship as she prepares to set out on a search for something better. High On Sunday 51 — with its request to “try, baby, try” — builds on this setup nicely. It also features a wonderful bit of wordplay as Mann asks to “be your heroin(e).” The opening scenes are wrapped up with the title track. Lost In Space is a perfect image for the real and abstract travels; the sense of radio waves bouncing off nothing also underscore the perils of human communication.

This Is How It Goes is a remarkably straightforward song from a master of suggestion, a cautionary reflection on what has been and what must come next. It features one of Mann’s finest vocals as she stretches her range and achieves an ache worthy of the most lonely country blues. She picks up the energy for Guys Like Me, a title that serves both as an explanation and an excuse. That bit of insight segues neatly into Pavlov’s Bell, a wonderful deconstruction of the forces that rule us — even as we know we’ve lost control. It repeats the explicit travel theme, reminding us that we’re on a journey, not just chatting about our feelings.

That journey can lead to Real Bad News, Mann’s look at misunderstandings and their perils. Wistful, but firm, she makes it clear that her listener may be confused, but she knows the score…and it isn’t pretty. That leads to the stark determination of Invisible Ink, another great metaphor explored deftly. It’s an old story, but she needs to share it, even if her words can’t be received. Mann demands more in Today’s the Day, asking for a commitment or a clear departure. Her quiet query “Isn’t it enough?” is plaintive but stakes out her growing strength.

As the journey draws to a close, Mann brings out another solid metaphor in The Moth. What could be stale in less adept hands is delightfully powerful, familiar images turned just slightly sideways. Building on the reflexive actions seen in Pavlov’s Bell, she issues a clear warning of the dangers of thoughtless action. In a nice, ironic twist, she wraps it up with a call for action, recognizing that risks must be taken if we are to grow. It’s Not wraps things up enigmatically, however, as the singer returns to the lover that set her off on her journey. Is she settling for comfort over growth, or has her journey prepared her to demand more from this relationship? Only time will tell, but the travels have been worth taking, and her tales of that trip are compelling for their raw humanity and the wonderful grace with which she relates them.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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