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Aimee Mann

Magnolia

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By Holly Crenshaw  
artist

"Now that I've met you / Would you object to never seeing each other again?" So goes the opening couplet of "Deathly," one of nine Mann originals featured on this highly listenable soundtrack. The lines are the heart and soul of not only P.T. Anderson's movie, but Mann's whole lyrical style -- a kind of relationship fatalism that she's been honing since her days in Til Tuesday.

To Mann, a relationship is like a shiny red wagon poised at the top of a steep hill. Before it is set in motion, it is a beautiful thing, a noble idea. But once it begins to move, it can only careen downhill, get knocked around and, inevitably, crash and turn over, broken with its wheels spinning. Mann tempers this bleak outlook with gorgeous melodies and arrangements (produced by studio whiz Jon Brion) that are by turns austerely acoustic and almost carnival-like, full of calliope swoops, popcorn drum samples and bleating Jumbo horns.

The disc opens with her cover of Harry Nilsson's classic "One," then sets about elaborating, in the songs that follow, why it really is the loneliest number. The clattering "Momentum," the McCartney-inspired "Build That Wall," the glass-blown "You Do" -- all serve their lyrical grenades with ice cream and a sprinkle of caustic humor. The most potent song, "Wise Up," is also featured in the film's bravest scene, where the various characters, all firmly in misery's heavy grip, whisper along with Mann's lyrics:  "It's not what you thought / When you first began it / You got what you want / Now you can hardly stand it / Though by now you know / It's not going to stop." 

It's a powerful, heart-stopping three minutes. Rounding out the soundtrack, almost as chasers, are two Supertramp hits, "Goodbye Stranger" and "The Logical Song," along with "Dreams" by Gabrielle and an orchestral theme by Jon Brion. But this is really an Aimee Mann recording.  Anderson says in the liner notes that he wrote the screenplay around Mann's songs, and it shows.

Holly Crenshaw, a long-time staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes frequently about music and the arts.