For the first time in years, Aimee Mann finds herself in a fairly stable situation – business-wise, at least – as she prepares to release her fourth solo album. Its most immediate predecessor, the stylish Bachelor No. 2, fell victim to the Geffen/Interscope merger: having refused her new bosses' requests to "sweeten" it with a few more commercial tracks, she bought back the masters and released it herself on the internet. V2, alerted by the interest in her Magnolia soundtrack, stepped in a few months later and licensed it for distribution – by which time, its impact was understandably dulled.
This time, there's no such dilution of label support – quite the opposite, in fact, judging by the 40-page lyric booklet which accompanies the album – so Mann may finally reach the audience she deserves with Lost in Space. As usual, the songs deal with adult concerns: the difficulty of preventing things falling apart, the pitfalls of temptation, the unbridgeable spaces between lives, and the rarity of really connecting with another. Her perennial struggle with self-esteem resurfaces in various metaphorical guises, sometimes several in the one song – as in "Invisible Ink", whose titular suggestion of a submerged, wraith-like personality is augmented by the comparison, "I feel like a ghost who's trying to move your hands over some ouija board, in the hope I can spell out my name." A similar sense of misty dislocation attends the title track's protagonists, whose tenuous relationship has frayed down to the merest threads, leaving them "close enough for just pretending to care".
Addiction is a recurrent theme throughout Lost in Space, Mann coolly assessing the junkie thought-process in "The Moth" ("The Moth don't care when he sees the flame/ He might get burned but he's in the game/ And once he's in he can't get back/ He'll beat his wings till he turns them black") and "High On Sunday 51" (A monkey knows how you'll react/ Creating want by holding back"), and observing the damage wrought to the addict and those around them in "This Is How It Goes" and "Real Bad News" ("You try to keep it open, but so many avenues are closed to you/ When you're real bad news"). There are acres of regret and resignation in the arrangements Mann and producer Michael Lockwood have devised for these songs – in the weeping guitars, the mournful formality of the strings, the shifty curlicues of slide guitar, the shadowy undercurrents of organ and ambient noise, and the finality in the hollow thud of drums. But despite the depressing nature of the material, and the characteristically woebegone, desolate tone of Mann's delivery, her knack for unearthing indelible, singalong melodies makes Lost in Space a much more enjoyable experience than might be expected, its bitterness rendered sweetly palatable by catchy tunes.
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