Aimee Mann

DGC

Every few years, Aimee Mann issues a collection of vengeful but well-crafted pop-song put-downs to ex-lovers. (Was she dumped once, perhaps by the lout who was telling her to shut up way back in 1985’s “Voices Carry,” or does she spend her long hiatuses between discs seeking abusive relationships so she’ll have something to write about?) Mann was recently quoted as saying that one of her main influences of late has been Liz Phair, a daunting thought given Mann’s long-established acerbity—does she really need reinforcement from alterna-rock’s ruling pottymouth? And when I’m With Stupid commences with Mann declaring, “You fucked it up,” the tenderhearted may fear the worst. Happily, the Phair influence manifests itself more in terms of stripped-down production than in added profane vitriol. Stupid is far sparer than 1993’s baroque Whatever (despite the ornamental presence of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, who play supporting parts on a few tracks and are rewarded by Mann’s including a quote from “Up the Junction” in “Long Shot”’s guitar solo), and the only trace of Phair-style sexual explicitness is in “Superball.” The sparser sound keeps Mann’s self-absorption from becoming precious or overbearing; her songs have always been strong melodically, and while Stupid is far from lo-fi, restraint in overdubbing gives some of them (notably “Long Shot” and “Superball”) a harder edge than Mann’s prior work. Ultimately, however, Mann’s obsession with pop craft keeps her tunes from having the emotional impact their traumatic subject matter demands. She may be living in Guyville, but clearly in the nice part of town. CP

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