Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Growing On Me Through Repetition, I'm With Stupid Is Still Average Aimee Mann.

The Good: Clear vocals, Decent lyrics, Musically interesting
The Bad: Musically repetitive, Fails to be audacious, Duration.
The Basics: A generally clever album, I'm With Stupid still sounds a bit derivative and lacks a unique zest to make it a more firm recommend.

The more music I listen to by Aimee Mann, the more I feel like she has the bum's rush of popular music history. By this, I unfortunately mean that I would probably like her music better if I had heard her first, as opposed to the more popular artists whose works hers sound like. For sure, I can recognize rationally that Aimee Mann's album I'm With Stupid precedes many of Sheryl Crow and Heather Nova's albums which I find myself comparing I'm With Stupid to, but the fact is, I heard them first. Clearly Aimee Mann's musical influence was greater than I knew before I started immersing myself in her works, but between finding her works derivative of others or hearing others in her work, I am finding few of her albums truly take me in the way the artist no doubt intended they might. Aimee Mann was my Artist Of The Month a few months back and I did enjoy the Magnolia Soundtrack (click here for that review) and came to enjoy several of her albums.

With I'm With Stupid, I am genuinely able to acknowledge there is much in the way of originality with the lyrics and concepts of the songs. But at the same time, I know my overall enjoyment of the album came more from repetition than actually the album leaping out at me on the first pass. Sadly, while this might have boosted it up into average territory and a weak "recommend," it is important to note from the beginning that the recommendation is a fairly weak one.

With thirteen songs occupying 56:15, I'm With Stupid is very much the work of singer-songwriter Aimee Mann. Mann wrote eight of the songs on her own and co-wrote the other five. Aimee Mann provides the lead vocals on each track and she plays at least one musical instrument on every song, save "Amateur" and "Frankenstein." While Mann was not involved in the production of the album, it is hard to argue that she was not happy with the results as she continued to work with producer Jon Brion after this album.

Instrumentally, I'm With Stupid is a rich pop-rock album that never achieved commercial success in the mainstream of the U.S. The album is notable for its creative sounds on songs like "Frankenstein" which includes instrumentation like the distorted nylon guitar to make things sound funky. The album oscillates between mellow pop numbers like "Choice In The Matter" and upbeat pure pop songs like "Superball." There is also a very haunting ballad in "You're With Stupid" and those who have been fed a steady diet of popular music are likely to enjoy the musical diversity of this album, if nothing else.

Aimee Mann's vocals on the album are clear and crisp and like most of her albums, she illustrates exceptional vocal range, though she tends to remain in a given range in each song. So, while "Superball" is energetic and soprano in its presentation, songs like "Par For The Course" go lower. The common element is that Aimee Mann sings clearly enough so that every line may be clearly understood.

Thematically, I'm With Stupid is very much a pop album about the two pop standards: love and loss. Mann is smart enough, though, to mix them up with quite a bit of creativity and many of them feel fresh and new. So, while "Superball" may be a metaphor for simple endurance and resilience, some are pleasantly more complicated. For example, it takes until the finale of "Frankenstein" for the relationship metaphor to be revealed with "You may wonder what the catch is / As we batten down the hatches / And when later we find that the thing we devised / Has the villagers clamouring for it's demise / We will have to admit the futility of / Trying to make something more of this jerry-built love / And you'll notice it bears a resemblance to / Everything I imagined I wanted from you / But at least it's my own creation / And it's better than real / It's a real imitation."

As well, Aimee Mann is usually quite smart with her use of metaphor. Mann successfully likens interpersonal relationships to political relationships with lines that offer subtle comparisons like "I don't know how to break the news, but / It's pretty clear you'll be asked to choose between / What you lack and what you excuse in this / Tug of war / You can't say that they didn't warn you / Though you'd rather that they just ignore you / 'Cause your devices are not working for you / Anymore / What you want / You don't know / You're with stupid now" ("You're With Stupid Now"). Comparing a search for a viable partner to voting for a president is a stroke of genius and Mann carries the comparison remarkably well, with an eerie success.

Sadly, not all of the lyrics are cunning or fresh. Mann is plagued by some very obvious rhyme schemes on some of her songs. Indeed, it is hard not to cringe when she sings "It's all you deserve / The loss of the nerve / The grade of the curve . . .You loved her a lot / But she lost the plot" ("Par For The Course") just from the rhymes.

Generally, though, Mann's lyrics and sound still sound fresh - or they sound good enough to be mistaken for the likes of Sheryl Crow and occasionally Heather Nova - and different enough to be enjoyed even now. But the truth is, I'm With Stupid is an acquired taste, not a knock-'em-out-of-the-park listening experience.

The best track is "Frankenstein," the low point is the far less memorable "Long Shot," which opens the album.

For other works by strong female vocalists, please check out my reviews of:
Siren - Heather Nova
Left Of The Middle - Natalie Imbruglia
Any Day Now - Joan Baez


For other album reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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