Review Summary: Solid throughout, this album was one of the best and most underrated new wave albums of the '80s.
For some reason, it seems like many people look down upon 'Til Tuesday. I think maybe people see photos of the band during their heyday, and they see Aimee Mann's bleached, feathered hair and guitarist Robert Holmes' Carrot Top red curls, and it makes them not take the band seriously. Or maybe the excessive airplay given to their hit single "Voices Carry" makes people look back and think the band was a one trick pony. Given that Mann has gone on to become a very respected solo artist, you'd think perhaps they would rethink their initial impressions of 'Til Tuesday. Regardless, I'm here to tell you that not only is 'Til Tuesday deserving of your respect, but that Voices Carry
was actually one of the best and most underrated new wave albums of the '80s.
It's not that there's anything particularly complicated about the album. There isn't. All of the band members are competent at their given instruments, but none of them are doing anything especially striking or difficult. Mann's vocals are strong, but this being her first album as a singer, she's given at times to little vocal affectations that an older, more experienced Mann grew confident enough to let go of. The one standout element of Voices Carry
is the consistency of the songwriting. All of the songs on the album are credited to Mann for lyrics and to the full band for music, so it's not really clear who wrote what. But certainly someone knew what they were doing.
The song everyone knows is the title track, and deservedly so. "Voices Carry" reached number eight on the Billboard
Hot 100 chart, and the video for the song was in heavy rotation at MTV. It's supposedly based on Mann's breakup with 'Til Tuesday drummer Michael Hausman. It details an emotionally abusive relationship wherein the singer is constantly stifled by her lover, who shuts her down whenever she tries to express her feelings to him with the famous refrain "Hush hush, keep it down now/Voices carry." At the end of the video, she wigs out on him in the middle of a concert at Carnegie Hall as he tries futilely to calm her down. It's a memorable song, and to the best of my knowledge, it's the only 'Til Tuesday song that Mann occasionally still performs at her live shows.
"Love in a Vacuum", the first song on the album, was originally supposed to be the first single. An early demo for it won a contest on Boston's WBCN radio and received significant airplay on the station, which is what led to the band getting signed by Epic Records. This is another song about a failing relationship, as the singer accuses the boyfriend who used to open every door for her of becoming distant and reclusive. Like "Voices Carry", it's another mid-tempo number that opens with a slow, chunky baseline and is carried largely by Mann's emotive singing, this time aided by some nice vocal harmonies thrown in on the chorus.
"You Know the Rest" is one of my favorite songs on the album. It's powered by a slightly mawkish but effective synthesizer line, as Mann tries to explain to the lover she tried unsuccessfully to warn off what a mess she is, even as she realizes that he already knows. It's a simple song, but a poignant one.
Other highlights of Voices Carry
include "Maybe Monday", one of the few faster songs in evidence here, and "Don't Watch Me Bleed", which is perhaps the bitterest breakup song on the album, with a chorus of "So don't just kiss me goodbye/That's not what I need/Don't just kiss me goodbye/Don't watch me bleed."
The '80s was a decade full of one-hit wonders and albums that contained a good song or two plus a lot of filler material. Looking back, Voices Carry
stands out for me as one of the few albums by a new wave band that is worthwhile from front to back.