Over the course of several critically acclaimed solo albums, former 'Til Tuesday singer Aimee Mann cultivated an image as a perpetual underdog, a jaded romantic who retains just enough of an idealistic streak to keep getting hurt all over again. Mann's public battles with her record labels have added to her image as a world-weary fighter at war with a world of yes-men and egocentric jerksparticularly during her struggle to get 2000's brilliant Bachelor No. 2 released after her label demanded more radio-friendly singles. But a funny thing happened to her early in 2000: She began winning big. Mann beat the big boys at their own game when fan and friend P.T. Anderson essentially created the movie Magnolia as a love letter to her music. Mann wrote and performed nearly the entire soundtrack to Magnolia, scoring a richly deserved Oscar nomination in the process. She ended up releasing Bachelor No. 2 on her own SuperEgo imprint, and though it reprised much of the blockbuster Magnolia soundtrack, it solidified her standing as one of her generation's finest songwriters. Anderson helped provide Bachelor with the sort of fairy-tale ending Mann would never allow herself in song, but that meant she had to follow it up with an album that lacked the benefit of association with a major Hollywood movie. Such a remarkable run of mainstream success would lead to a change in sound and spirit for a lot of artists, but thankfully, Mann continues to see the dark cloud hovering above every silver lining. The brevity and bleak emotional terrain of the 10-song Lost In Space seem designed to deflate the high expectations greeting it, but Mann remains a perfectionist throughout: Not a note or word is wasted throughout its nearly 40 minutes. Only Elvis Costello and perhaps Stephin Merritt can match Mann's ability to convey worlds of depth and subtext in a single put-down, and here, as always, her withering one-liners deepen rather than diminish the atmosphere of bittersweet melancholy. Where 1996's I'm With Stupid wrapped Mann's dark lyrics and serrated wit in some of the bounciest melodies this side of vintage Squeeze, Lost In Space features music that's just as dark as her lyrics. Sonically, the album is a marvel of tasteful bombast, adding touches of mournful slide guitar and occasional strings, but always keeping the focus on Mann's voice and evocative lyrics. Success hasn't spoiled Aimee Mann; judging by Lost In Space's bottomless pools of sadness, it hasn't even eased her anguish. But Mann's pain is her fans' gain, and with Lost In Space, she remains America's foremost purveyor of catchy, quotable despair.