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The first opening words of this album are 'You f*cked it up' and I know this will make me sound childish-but this captured my interest. A self professed fan of coarse language is not a trait I should be proud of and this album is much more interesting than just a teenage angsty album littered with the word 'f*ck' to sound cool. So don't judge it badly just yet.
The album musically has a Stone Roses/Beck feel, mixed with some really contempory hip-hop style beats and polished off with a neat indie rock flavour. This album really is more appealing to a bigger audience than her first. Compared to her other stuff this album is pretty good but she does still rely on the pop-single catchy essence of her songs which is something that I think let's the album down a little and destroys any edge or innovacy that she might want to accrue.
The hippie indie feel on this album really is a good way forward but it's not convincing through this album, especially on collaborations with Bernard Butler (Suede) in the song 'Sugarcoated'.
Lyrically her songs are stronger than you would expect if you just judged her on her sickly pop album 'Whatever'. I suppose that she is trying to live up to the greatness of some of her idols like Elvis Costello. Without wanting to sound cruel, as in many ways I do like her, she isnt anywhere near that good.
The album sags at some points and I dont think it really recovers at times. The high points of this album, musically, lyrically and vocally are 'You Could Make A Killing', 'Long Shot' and 'You're With Stupid Now'.
I'm With Stupid by Aimee Mann (1995)
For her second solo album, singer songwriter Aimee Mann re-teamed with producer Jon Brion, but gone is the eclectic range of instrumentation showcased on the first record, as "I'm With Stupid" favours electric guitars at every possible avenue available, with keyboards kept optional. Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze lend occasional backing vocals.
The inlay card to this CD is annoying because instead of reprinting the lyrics it presents you with an alphabetical list of all the words contained in the lyrics. That's pretty funny actually. I don't think I've listened to this record for nearly ten years before today. My memory tells me this is an inferior collection of songs to its predecessor, "Whatever," but let's see how it goes.
One - Long Shot
A guitar rhythm approaches in the distance and hooks up with a programmed drumbeat before the vocal kicks in with clearer sound levels although it's a mumble of a melody. The aesthetic of the beats works fine and Mann's voice is a distinctive swoon of cynicism. "You f*ck*d it up / You should've quit / 'Til circumstances / Had changed a bit." Two more guitars merge and build up layers but the production keeps some separation in the arrangement and there are some nice solos. The titular long shot refers to a relationship that had been sworn off until "all that stuff / I knew before / Just turned into / Please love me more."
Two - Choice In The Matter
The opening line cuts straight to the chase: "Skip the cloak and dagger bit / Don't you know we're sick of it." The fuzzy bass line underneath the chorus is quite ear catching and so are some of the bridging guitar spirals. The arrangement is plenty of fun and the tone fizzles and dapples and there's even time to quote the line "row, row, row your boat" in an overdubbed backing vocal.
Three - Sugarcoated
Bernard Butler of the band Suede contributes some notable guitar passages to this one and conjures up a fairly ethereal sound that he and Jon Brion compliment with keyboards. The intro almost wants to go off on a bluesy Hendrix tangent but melodically the song is more space age and yes, sugar coated, and the harmonies are worked out well. It's less stairway to heaven than elevator to the moon. You do wonder whether Mann might have tried to growl a bit more like a rock chick, but credit her for singing the way she sings best.
Four - You Could Make A Killing
This is the record's stand out track and I'm sure everybody's heard it dozens of times in films and on television whilst not knowing what they were listening to. It's a mournful ballad, but unlike 4th of July, arguably it's opposite number on the "Whatever" record, it opts for a lone low rumble of electric guitar alongside the predominantly acoustic accompaniment. The percussion sounds like tambourine and cymbals. "There is nothing that competes with habit / and I know it's neither deep nor tragic / it's simply that you have to have it" Mann observes. Juliana Hatfield - anybody remember her? No? Well thank god for that, because you're probably oblivious to the time she played a homeless busking angel on the Christmas episode of My So-Called Life, which was completely incongruous and uncalled for, and really would have irritated you. Let me repeat that. A homeless busking angel! Well actually she might have been a ghost, but then they kind of implied she was an angel, so I'm not entirely sure on the precise taxonomy of sprites from the afterlife in otherwise naturalistic coming of age dramas, but I digress - provides backing vocals. Actually, no, forget what I said about this being the best track on the record. I'm docking it points on account of the homeless busking angel crap. A bit unfair on Aimee Mann, who had nothing to do with that, but principles are important, I think, and we have to draw the line under stuff like that somewhere. Sorry. I don't know what came over me. I really wish I hadn't read the liner notes now. That way I wouldn't have remembered the homeless busking angel. Gah!!!!!
Five - Superball
A big guitar line bounces spikily through this bubblegum pop song about a children's toy. The simple lyrics have a darker edge though. Sometimes people who seem like fun sow chaos and don't take any responsibility for the damage they cause.
Six - Amateur
A quiet break-up ballad with thoughtful piano accompaniment and lyrics that sound a little legalistic and contractual alongside the obvious relationship slant. She who will not be named also sings backing vocals on this too.
Seven - All Over Now
A mid-tempo ballad with thick and fuzzy guitars and spooky sounding vocals and perhaps the closest a song comes on this record to the sound of "I Should've Known" from the debut record. The end of the song is a brief reprise of a hook from Superball.
Eight - Par For The Course
For over six minutes Mann sings her sad slow solitary love ballad over a swell of electric guitar and finally a keyboard "string" arrangement. She plays all instruments herself, including bass and drums. "And I don't even know you / I don't even know you any more."
Nine - You're With Stupid Now
The way the vocal reasons back and forward with unorthodox metaphors is reminiscent of "Whatever" but the musical arrangement is kept very simple here and fails to scintillate despite a very nice tone to the elegant guitar solo. Might have worked better spliced together with extra ideas but it's pleasant enough. "Sturdy bones with a hairline fracture / The crazy will of a Margaret Thatcher" is a cute couplet but ultimately the lyrics flatter to deceive if you know what Mann is capable of. I'm surprised this is effectively the title track of the album.
Ten - That's Just What You Are
Has quite a distinctive drum loop with a skip in its step and is musically one of the more upbeat tracks despite the reflective manner of the words, which seem close to calling time on a failing relationship with a partner who is set in his ways. Mann sings "When you're sleepwalking, it is a danger to wake you" but sadly she may be on autopilot herself here. The quality is good but not her best.
Eleven - Frankenstein
The keyboards here are given a wider remit to explore different textures and the percussive rhythms are very prominent. The haunted but upbeat sound evokes cheerful ghosts of songs from the first record and there's an eccentric guitar solo too.
Twelve - Ray
This ballad is a framework of rickety jangles and terse but friendly beats on which Mann floats her crystal clear vocal. "I'm playing it cool but it's terribly cruel / 'Cause I ought to be there."
Thirteen - It's Not Safe
"But you're the idiot who keeps believing in luck / and you just can't get it through your head / that no one else gives a f***" is good for a laugh, but lyrically this lacks the wise penetration of Mann's better compositions and so disappoints me as a final track. Her own closing backing vocals work well but elsewhere the other voices are less effective and the guitar framework can sound a bit rigid and melodramatic to me at times. I'm not sure what the point is to stretch this out to seven minutes. Why this one? Melodically it's okay but it just lacks the epic feel I presume Mann's collaborators thought they were reaching for.
This is a good record with strong pop instincts and nice guitar sounds but lyrically it's underwhelming by comparison to a lot of Mann's other work and the music may be a bit too sugary sweet at times. There are standout moments but the level of consistency has dipped a little. Whatever had a handful of songs as good or better than the best on offer here, although that's not to diminish I'm With Stupid's undoubted appeal.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Long Shot
2 Choice In The Matter
4 You Could Make A Killing
7 All Over Now
8 Par For The Course
9 You're With Stupid Now
10 That's Just What You Are
13 It's Not Safe