Aimee Mann: Bachelor No. 2

Aimee Mann: Bachelor No. 2

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Aimee Mann

Album: Bachelor No. 2
Label: SuperEgo

Pity poor Aimee Mann: Her career has experienced more pitfalls than the similarly put-upon Mekons. Yet Mann is no punk provocateur, and her shimmering pop hooks should have elevated her beyond high-profile cult status by now. The former 'Til Tuesday singer's auspicious solo debut was the great Whatever, released on Imago shortly before that label folded. Her follow-up, I'm With Stupid, was even better, but Geffen hardly promoted her. Midway through recording for label number three, Mann was told to head back into the studio and come out with a hit. Instead, she chose to buy the tapes back from Interscope and release Bachelor No. 2 herself, on her own SuperEgo imprint. Complicating matters was the Magnolia soundtrack, mostly a collection of Mann's odds and ends, a few songs from her then-upcoming record, and "Save Me," which received Oscar and Grammy nominations. It's ironic that Mann's last major-label hurrah steals so much thunder from her first independent release, but Bachelor No. 2 (currently available from Mann on tour or through www.aimeemann.com) hasn't even received national distribution. Since Mann has proven such a superlative songwriter and producer, it's become increasingly pointless to quibble about the quality of her songs: They're perfect, and perfectly crafted. "Nothing Is Good Enough," included on the Magnolia soundtrack as an instrumental, is here transformed into possibly the most sensitive break-up song addressed to a record label ever recorded, while the Daniel Clowes-inspired "Ghost World," "Driving Sideways," and "Calling It Quits" are complex, witty anthems of emotional breakdown. The problem with Bachelor No. 2 is in the presentation. So many of Mann's songs adhere to the same formula—mid-tempo Beatles plus Burt Bacharach with a rousing chorus built in, incorporating fancy arrangements but little "oomph"—that the disc begins to sound like too much of a good thing. Despite such standout tracks as "Red Vines" and the Elvis Costello collaboration "(The Fall Of The World's Own) Optimist," Bachelor No. 2 doesn't really pick up until after "Deathly," another song from the Magnolia soundtrack that, like its companions, sounds robbed of the context Paul Thomas Anderson's film provided. Mann's tribute to Jeff Buckley, "Just Like Anyone," doesn't milk the sentiment for more than a minute or so, but "Susan" is an odd track to sequence after such a heartbreaking song. By the time the disc gets around to "You Do" (another Magnolia reprise), Bachelor No. 2 still hasn't settled on a distinct tone, making the contradictory album an imperfect collection of remarkable music. But knowing Mann's penchant for irony and wit, she might take that as a compliment. And maybe she should.