The Good: Duration, Lyrics, Some catchy tunes
The Bad: Vocally and instrumentally repetitive
The Basics: A very average compilation by a very average 1980s pop band, Coming Up Close: A Retrospective is still satisfying to those who like ‘Til Tuesday or Aimee Mann.
As part of my monthlong exploration of Aimee Mann, I found myself driving along listening to Coming Up Close: A Retrospective from Mann’s first big band, ‘Til Tuesday. The 1980s pop band was best known for the song “Voices Carry” and while I’ve heard two of their three albums, the song “Voices Carry” has largely been the most distinct and interesting song by them I’ve heard. However, repetition does a lot for me and the more I listened to Coming Up Close: A Retrospective, the more I actually came to enjoy both the album and some of the other tracks.
At the same time, though, I found myself feeling like I was not missing anything. In other words, the songs on Coming Up Close are truly the best the band ‘Til Tuesday ever did and if you only have to have one album by the group this is easily it.
With sixteen songs occupying over an hour of music on a single compact disc, Coming Up Close is very much the work of the band ‘Til Tuesday, mostly from the creative bent of Aimee Mann. Mann wrote eight of the songs and co-wrote the other eight with members of the band or outside writers (depending on the track). Mann provides the lead vocals on every track as well as playing the bass and (occasionally) acoustic guitar. She is accompanied on drums, guitars and keyboards by Michael Hausman, Robert Holmes, and Joey Pesce, who made up the band. The band even produced a couple of the songs on the album, most notably the new song “Do It Again.” In other words, this is the musical vision of the band as it was in the 1980s.
The sound of ‘Til Tuesday is “New Wave,” which seems to be best defined as the keyboard and guitar driven pop music that came out around the same time as punk and offered a mainstream alternative to that musical movement. The songs have a generally articulate quality to them, but are limited by the instrumental accompaniment in some ways. The keyboard driven ballads begin to blend together in the middle (I’ll find myself humming the tune to “David Denies,” but singing “Coming Up Close” to it!). The songs have a number of dramatic swells and falls, are not entirely danceable, but have a flavor to them that helped define '80's pop music. Sadly, this also makes the songs sound tragically dated in many ways.
What is distinct about ‘Til Tuesday on this retrospective are the vocals of Aimee Mann. Mann has a soprano voice which is beautiful and has more range than most singers of the time. So, unlike songs by – for example – The Bangles, Mann goes lower on several songs as well as to the upper limits of her range. The result is that the songs do not sound bubblegum pop on every track and she is able to connote a greater emotional range than many of her contemporaries. Still, on some of the tracks – like the beginning to “Coming Up Close” – Mann is produced under the instrumental accompaniment, so she can barely be understood.
‘Til Tuesday is largely driven by the lyrics of Aimee Mann and Mann tends to like songs about emotional conflict. She is an able songwriter, though and on many of her songs, she writes musical storysongs in an almost Folk tradition. So, for example, her song “David Denies” has a protagonist with a conflict and an emotional journey which she presents: “He cannot work he cannot think / Beyond the guilt he has for leaving her alone / I'm going down I cannot breathe / He doesn't think to leave me anything at all / David denies that he'll ever change his mind.” And the song works because the vocals are presented so they may be clearly heard over the sweeps and swells of the guitars and keyboards.
Mann’s lyrics also tend to illustrate how good she is as a poet. Aimee Mann has an excellent sense of imagery in many of her songs which makes them distinct from other pop music, especially of the time. When Mann sings “There was a time not long ago / I dreamt that the world was flat / And all the colours bled away / And that was that / And in time, I could only believe in one thing / The sky was just phosphourus stars hung on strings / And you swore that they'd always be mine / When you can pull them down anytime” (“The Other End (Of The Telescope)”) she paints a pretty incredible picture in the mind’s eye of the listener and that works beautifully for making her points.
But, not all of the songs are winners. Take, for example, the lyrics to “J For Jules.” On that song, Mann wrote a far less inspired “I was saying my prayers / He was combing his hair / In a country that began with a / 'J' for Jules” (“J For Jules”). Mann is able to do better on many of the other songs, so why she doesn’t on this one is somewhat baffling.
All in all, Coming Up Close: A Retrospective is a good retrospective of a fairly average band from the 1980s. Anyone who likes light pop-rock will find something to like here.
The best song is “Voices Carry,” the low point is “J For Jules.”
For other works by ‘Til Tuesday and/or Aimee Mann, please check out my reviews of:
I'm With Stupid
For other music reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing of albums and singles by clicking here!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.