With an Academy Award nomination and a performance at the vaunted ceremony itself, you'd think singer/songwriter Aimee Mann wouldn't have to look far to find a label to release her third solo album, Bachelor No. 2.
In fact, Mann wasn't looking at all. After sparring publicly with two major labels to which she was signed in recent years, the former lead singer of '80s pop band 'Til Tuesday decided to form her own imprint, SuperEgo, to release the
long-awaited album, which hits stores Tuesday (May 2).
"I never had a problem being on a major label," Mann said recently from her home near Los Angeles. "They just didn't do their job and then they wouldn't let me go. The situation was completely untenable."
Mann said her dissatisfaction with Geffen Records' promotion of her 1995 album, I'm With Stupid, led her to release Bachelor No. 2 on her own. Representatives from Geffen did not respond to requests for comment.
Bachelor No. 2 is Mann's first album of new material since the release late last year of the "Magnolia" soundtrack, which contains nine of her compositions. "Save Me" (RealAudio excerpt) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.
The new record is already available through Mann's Web site (www.aimeemann.com) and contains four of the songs she contributed to the "Magnolia" soundtrack, including "Nothing Is Good Enough" and "Deathly."
Stylistically, Bachelor No. 2 continues where Mann's previous albums, I'm With Stupid and Whatever (1993) leave off. Though the singer's insightful lyrics and shimmering pop arrangements recall midperiod Beatles, they are tempered by an often pessimistic view of love and the world at large. "The sex you're trading up for what you hope is love/ Is just another thing he'll be careless of," she sings on "You Do" (RealAudio excerpt).
On the album's opening track, "How Am I Different" (RealAudio excerpt), Mann is even more direct. "And just one question before I pack," she sings to a well-meaning friend or lover, "when you fuck it up later do I get my money back?" Mann's low vocals, wry sense of humor and liberal use of piano all contribute to Bachelor No. 2's somber mood.
The singer produced the album with help from L.A. producer/musician Jon Brion, who, in addition to writing the score for "Magnolia," has worked with Fiona Apple. Also appearing on the album are Juliana Hatfield, Jennifer Trynin and Grant-Lee Phillips.
Many longtime fans herald Bachelor No. 2 as a victory in more ways than one.
"Artistically, it's the best record she's ever made," said Russ Nordmeyer, who runs the Mann fan site www.drivingsideways.com. "The fact that she is releasing it on her own label is especially gratifying, considering all of the hassles she's had with major labels in the past. She may finally achieve commercial success, to go along with the wealth of critical accolades."
The "Magnolia" soundtrack, released in December, features songs Mann bought back from Interscope Records after the label, which signed her after she left Geffen, balked at her proposed new material, citing a lack of commercial appeal. Mann's friend Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed the movies "Super 8" and "Boogie Nights," conceived of "Magnolia" after hearing several of those songs. One of Mann's rescued songs, "Wise Up" (RealAudio excerpt), is sung by several characters in the film, including Frank Mackey, the womanizing inspirational speaker played by Tom Cruise.
"Paul Thomas Anderson has been vocally supportive of me, with the idea that I was an inspiration," Mann, a Boston native, said. "[The 'Magnolia' soundtrack] is more Paul's collection of [my] older songs he had heard that had never been released."
Anderson's use of Mann's music has given a considerable boost to the singer's career. Mann was asked to perform "Save Me" at the Academy Awards in March.
The performance no doubt helped further spur sales of the "Magnolia" soundtrack. According to SoundScan, the album which also includes two Supertramp hits and a Brion song has sold approximately 250,000 copies. Mann said that tops sales figures for both of her previous solo releases.
Mann rose to prominence in 1983 as the leader of the Boston band 'Til Tuesday. Despite scoring a hit with "Voices Carry" (RealAudio excerpt), the singer said she remembers her time with the band as less than pleasant.
"We had managers who were really not to be trusted," Mann said. "I wish there was an easier way to learn the things you need to learn. There are a lot of lessons about who to trust and when to say no."
Mann said she, her husband singer/songwriter Michael Penn and her management are exploring more affordable avenues for promoting her music, such as marketing over the Internet.
"Aimee knows best how to present herself," said Paul DeGooyer, director of marketing and A&R for Red Ink, the label arm of RED Music, which will distribute the new album. "Bachelor No. 2 is a wonderful record. We will make it so [Mann] doesn't have to have a huge label apparatus around [her]."
Mann and Penn have been performing together at shows they call "Acoustic Vaudeville," which they're taking out on the road again for a brief West Coast tour that begins May 11 in Portland, Ore. The performances consist of individual sets, as well as duets. A comedian performs the songwriters' stage banter for them.
"It's a blast," Penn said. "The nature of [the] shows has brought something out, in that it's an acoustic show, and it allows the songs to be stripped more bare. It's nice to be able to not worry about
re-creating a record live."
Penn's most recent album, Mp4 Days Since a Lost Time Accident, was released in February.
Aimee Mann/Michael Penn tour dates:
May 11; Portland; Ore.; Newmark Theater
May 12; Seattle; Wash.; Moore Theater
May 1416; San Francisco; Calif.; Bimbo's 365 Club
May 1819; Los Angeles; Calif.; Henry Fonda Theater
May 23; Las Vegas; Nev.; The Joint/Hard Rock Hotel
May 24; San Diego; Calif.; Spreckels Theatre
May 25; Anaheim; Calif.; The Sun Theater
May 26; Santa Barbara; Calif.; Lobero Theatre
July 25; Santa Monica; Calif.; MaCabes
Aug. 23; Saratoga; Calif.; Garden Theatre
Aug. 25; Santa Ynez; Calif.; The Gainey Vineyard