If you haven't guessed by now, we're writing each day this week about a band named for that particular day of the week. Today being Tuesday, we're dusting off our copy of Voices Carry (the album) and preparing to wax philosophic on the little band from Boston.
Much like yesterday's feature act Happy Mondays, Til Tuesday got their big shot as a result of taking part in a local talent show. In this case, it was WBCN's Rock & Roll Rumble, which the band - together all of six months - won handily in 1983. WBCN continued to play the band's demo for "Love In A Vacuum" as the band played to sold-out rooms and signed with Epic Records.
Their music video for "Voices Carry" hit MTV airwaves like a bottle-blonde tsunami, sending kids across the country running to the record store. Now, some bought the single "Voices Carry" and went back to their wonderful life of only liking those things that are popular already and others bought the album because we wanted to dig deeper into this band's story. Sure, the band had a cute singer, but so did every other band on the network (sans Dexy's Midnight Runners, of course). "Voices Carry" was brutal in its candor and was a slickly rocking tune that, for better or worse, touched a nerve.
We kids weren't yet hip to the idea of romantic psychological warfare and abuse, though many of us had already been dabbling in the art form of playing carelessly with hearts. Singer Aimee Mann was writing from her own experiences with men with the sort of detail that probably left more than a few ex-lovers who, to paraphrase Carly Simon, probably thought this song is about them, don't they, don't they?
Even face-pierced smack survivor Alain Jourgensen, cutting his first major label album in Boston at the time, was rumored to be the song's subject suitor, as he and Mann had a brief and tumultuous dalliance.
As a fan of both bands, not knowing this little tidbit of info until many years later was a real brain-blower. Imagine if there'd been a Twitter back in the day.
Voices Carry, the album, was not an album of "Voices Carry" sound-alikes, much to our initial chagrin, but the scope of the album grew on us. Opening with "Love In A Vacuum", the song that WBCN had already been playing in demo form, Aimee sings of another love-gone-bad, which, as luck would have it, also turns out to be all the guy's fault.
Anyone who has ever slept through Psychology 101 for three semesters begins to see a pattern develop, but who cares when the songs are this good? "Looking Over My Shoulder", for example, seems musically tailor-made for 1985 radio airwaves, yet the lyrics are anything but a Mento commercial come to life:
"When I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve
It went out after a fashion
When I'm finding it hard to believe
You're wholehearted lack of compassion
And if I'm looking over my shoulder, it's just because I hope you'll be there
And if I'm looking older and older, it's cuz I know I haven't a prayer."
For teenage kids new to the game of love at the adult level, Voices Carry should have stood as a warning sign or, at the very least, a road map detailing the future pitfalls that awaited all of us.
My only gripe with the album, aside from the slap-bass (that's my phobia, though), was that there was nothing that rocked like "Voices Carry".
Sadly, the band's second album Welcome Home didn't either. In fact, it was if the band was trying its hardest to "not rock". The entire album is a down tempo collection of even more devastating observations on lost love that begins with the "Hallmark card hit single that the label made us write" ("What About Love?") and quickly morphs into this weird sort of atmospheric acoustic album that was unlike anything my MTV-trained brain was expecting on "Coming Up Close" (aka, the song the label should have known was a hit and didn't stop pushing until it was).
Success had come so quickly for the band: within six months of forming, their music was being played by the biggest radio station in Boston. A couple years later, the first single from their first album goes Top 10, easy peasy. So when Welcome Home began grabbing critical raves instead of commercial ones, the label seemed to shift its focus and interest-level in the band.
Even as my teenage self fell in love with "On Sunday", "David Denies", and "Sleeping And Waking", I could imagine the suits at Epic going, "Oh no, they didn't become the day-glo U.S. version of A Flock of Seagulls we thought we'd signed!"
This is usually when bands I like disappear into thin air. It was obvious the band had committed commercial suicide with an album so esoteric and downright book-like in its lyrical breadth.
So imagine this writer's surprise when Everything's Different Now appeared in the bins in 1988.
I remembered reading bits and pieces in the music press about Mann's involvement with singer/songwriter Jules Shear, but, upon seeing that the album opens with a Jules/Matthew Sweet composition, Jules' musical appearance on "(Believed You Were) Lucky", and that, further down, there was a song called "J For Jules", I promptly put the album back in the record bins and, to this day, have never listened to the album in its entirety.
Don't get me wrong, I still buy the occasional Aimee Mann record (Bachelor No. 2 is my favorite, if you must know) and saw many a great intimate Aimee Mann at L.A.'s Largo (back when it was still on Fairfax), but everything about that album disagrees with my sensibilities.
For starters, the cover art is an explosion of late '80s clip art elements - a concession to the label, no doubt - all meant to distract us from the "serious art" housed within. But how good could the songs be if the album opens with a song that Aimee Mann didn't even write?
To those who might accuse this writer of jealousy or envy towards one Jules Shear, please note that I bought that Reckless Sleepers album Big Boss Sounds that same year and Demo-itis two years prior.
So why do I continue to keep my distance from Everything's Different Now after all these years, you ask? Good question. It used to be that there was always another album that I wanted to buy more, but now that its just a click away at any time, I guess it just seems like a "naked baby picture" of sorts and I respect Mann too much to judge her by that particularly confusing moment in time.
I mean, not only was her romantic life in constant upheaval, it seems, but she was probably getting it from all sides professionally. The label wanted a hit, management wanted the label to promote the albums better, and all wanted Mann to give them another "Voices Carry".