Aimee Mann – Lost In
Space (Super Audio Compact Disc)
Music: B+ PCM
CD sound: B+ DSD Stereo: A- DSD Multi-Channel: N/A
On her fourth solo album, Aimee Mann delivered another
stunner, an eleven-track collection of brilliance entitled Lost In Space. It was originally issued in August of 2002
as the second release on her own SuperEgo record label, following the fantastic
Bachelor No. 2 or, the last remains of the dodo back in 1999. Some of those songs were even in Paul Thomas
Anderson’s incredible film Magnolia.
But there is something additional about this version of Lost In Space.
This version is a 24-karat Gold edition, a Super Audio CD,
and has been released by the risen-again Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. The world’s greatest audiophile indie is
back and having Mann’s newest album is typical of the high standards of the
company to begin with. They have issued
a sonically superior version of the work that is worth every additional cost
over Mann’s own basic edition. The CD
tracks are really good, but producers Michael Lockwood and Stan Freeland have
gone out of their way to pick character over clarity and fidelity. That is not to say this is not a sonically
superior release, but that they (and some profoundly key contributions by Mike
Denneen) manipulate and twist sound around to create a feel like nothing heard
in music lately. Mann is thought of as
a strong singer/songwriter/musician, but to write her off as a laid-back
throwback to the 1970s is a major error.
Her second solo album, the near-masterpiece (and most
ironically titled) I’m With Stupid (1995) was so sonically daring,
brilliantly produced and amazingly engineered (recorded by Denneen and produced
by Jon Brion for the most part) that the Magnolia period came as a
surprise at first. However, Lost In
Space does not repeat anything she’s done before. It instead is another giant step forward for Mann as that rare
music artist with something to say, show, and the immense talent to pull it
What she tries on this album is very interesting. She wants to break out of the laid-back
mode, but not totally. The album could
qualify as a concept album, which is a god thing when done right, like this is. If we consider Mann as Auteur, her themes
always have to do with irony of communication.
This even goes back to her famed pop hit Voices Carry, with its
great video and bold pro-female point of view.
It was a triumph that she and her band ‘til Tuesday immediately tried to
deconstruct, so they were not put into a corner. It is also a square root to the extremely layered and advanced
work she does now.
Instead of the simplicity of a man who will never change
to understand a(ny) woman, the solo Mann is far more explicit about the
problems. She’ll spell them out, then
mock the failure of the situation with a witty turn of phrase or hip
observation. This also goes far into
building the world of music that is all her own, something only an extremely
small handful of music artists are capable of doing today. With that said, let’s look at these tracks:
Humpty Dumpty – Mann often likes to work
clichés into her songs, including pieces of over-simple, over-familiar
works. The difference here is that she
breaks through one totally, going much farther then those teases, and that sets
the tone for just how far she will go into a new direction of dissonance
(sonically and thematically) on an album with such an appropriate title. The ideas of self-breakdown, assisted by
serious denial signified by symbols of false happiness, are rendered vividly
here. Note the interplay of strings
High on Sunday 51 – This delves even deeper into
the soul lost to addiction and/or depression, as our female antagonist hangs on
into a one-ay trip to hell.
Lost in Space – This brilliant title track
remarkably defines how couples brake apart before they know it, without knowing
why. This is not simply about merely
drifting away, or drifting away from one another, but the existential, internal
changes unaddressed that our emotionally crippled society has yet to begin
scratching the surface of to grasp. I
love the music, lyrics, vocal performance, and arrangement.
This is How it Goes – Drugs and shame are sung of
literally here, but works well as a metaphor for something much deeper and
profound. This is about negotiating
away your identity and soul as it becomes too late to reverse the process. Her vocals are just great, in both range and
Guys Like Me – What might at first seem like
a gender-bender is actually a woman’s reflection of the failure of men to be
for real with women. The difference
with this song is that it manages to offer additional anger that after all
these decades of women expressing otherwise, men STILL are missing the boat.
Pavlov’s Bell – Saying too much would ruin
this one, but it offers a nice twist on the title concept.
Real Bad News – About what happens when one
person sees things realistically, and the other is far from the mark. My only problem with this song is that it
might assume that the person seeing “reality” is always right, but some people
take “bad news” or “reality” as something more (maybe even worse) than it is.
Invisible Ink – Another one of the brilliant
cuts on the album, partly because Mann is questioning her own abilities as an
artist. Of course, it lands up going
deeper than that, incredibly bold, brave, and shows her incredible
self-awareness. The use of glissando in
the refrain is a terrific touch.
Today’s The Day – A song about the moment of
truth, the time to move on to what denial would hope would be something better,
but is usually about barely getting out alive.
It also is about leaving a lie behind and getting back to happiness,
however tainted by the dark truth of mortality and unhappiness. The music actually understands this too.
The Moth – A simpler song about how
people agree to be miserable and do not often know it, as if Mann’s songs did
not deal with this on a normal basis.
It’s Not – Not only is this final cut
acknowledging that there may be no home to go to when all is said and done, but
that the body and how it connects to the inside (read heart/mind) can be vastly
There is also the great artwork throughout the booklet and
on the cover that reminds one of the remarkable animated series Daria
that recently finished its run on the often-barren MTV. All the pictures are from night or in the
practically dark. The cover art has
electric towers, but they could be mistaken for telephone pools at first look,
which is the point. Even such a narrow
misinterpretation can spell disaster.
On this album, it is the emotional, personal equivalent that leads to
what the songs deal with. Going through
the songs one time with the illustrations put me in mind, of all things, of
Marvin Gaye’s incredible Here My Dear concept double album from 1978.
The PCM CD sound is fine, sounding better than the
more-clearly recorded CD presentation on I’m With Stupid and even having
a fullness that the newer Bachelor No. 2 lacks. This is obviously due to Mobile Fidelity’s
superior UHR Gain 2 process. The Direct
Stream Digital (DSD) signal on the SACD layer is even better, but also shows
the limits of the non-DSD masters and limits from the anti-clarity stance the
producers rightly took and greatly executed for this project. These tracks are as good as this album is
ever going to sound in any playback medium.
Like the previous 20 SACDs MoFi (as they are also known) have issued in
their new era, there is no 5.1 Multi-Channel mix of the album here. Of course, this was not recorded in DSD, but
is a high quality recording that consistently impresses.
So the result we have here is easily one of the best SACD
releases in the format to date. It is a
remarkable recording that has been bettered by state-of-the-art transfer. Aimee Mann is working on a level few music
artists are (or sadly care to) work at these days, and that makes her one of
the most important artists in music today.
That is alone why this SACD of Lost In Space is a must-have in
any serious audiophile collection.
- Nicholas Sheffo