Reviews / November 28, 2017
By ‘Til Tuesday
‘Til Tuesday formed in the early ’80s in Boston, from the same scene that had fostered post-punk legends Mission of Burma. Vocalist/bassist Aimee Mann had been in local punk outfit Young Snakes, and both Mann and ‘Til Tuesday drummer Robert Hausman had attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. Joined by guitarist Robert Holmes and keyboardist Joey Pesce, they gigged around Boston and won local radio institution WBCN‘s Rock and Roll Rumble title in 1983, beating future Boston indie legends the Del Fuegos. This win netted ‘Til Tuesday a major label deal with Epic Records, and the band went into the studio with Wire producer Mike Thorne to record their debut LP, 1985’s Voices Carry. In the midst of all this, Mann and Hausman, who had been an item during the early years of the band, broke up. Mann has hinted strongly that this breakup influenced the writing of the album.
The title track ended up becoming a breakout hit, aided greatly by its music video. Originally conceived as a song from a woman to her abusive female partner, it was rewritten as a more mainstream-for-1985 hetero pairing. In the video, Mann’s character’s abusive, controlling boyfriend is out to prevent her from expressing herself by practicing with her band. At the end, Mann triumphantly cries out the final chorus vamp as the couple attends an event at Carnegie Hall. The boyfriend is mortified, but Mann’s character sings freely. The video was a sensation; it helped propel “Voices Carry” into the Billboard Top 10, and ‘Til Tuesday earned Best New Artist honors at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards, where they beat out some much bigger names in Julian Lennon, Sade, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Sheila E.
It’s actually a bit of a shame that ‘Til Tuesday got painted with the “one-hit wonder” brush, because the rest of Voices Carry is an unheralded post-punk gem. The sparkly, pop-infused “Love in a Vacuum” was their pre-album single and benefited from Thorne’s more polished production on the album version. Mann’s work on the bass guitar throughout is profoundly underrated. She takes a quasi-lead role on “Love in a Vacuum” and “Are You Serious?“; this near-slap bass, somewhere between funk and rock, again recalls the groove that was the backbone of so many post-punk classics. The album is consistently danceable, with uptempo numbers like “No More Crying,” “Maybe Monday,” and “Winning The War” riding beats laid down by Hausman. The album’s ballads, like the title track and especially “You Know The Rest,” ache with a chilly yet heartfelt alienation. Mann’s powerful, plaintive phrasing drags you through the ups and downs of a failed relationship in this song, her voice coming to the fore in the verses while the chorus melody crashes over you.
Lyrically, Voices Carry is one of the best breakup albums ever. Mann treads the line between classic kiss-offs (“There is no love here/Only some sort of blackmail”) and longing after lost love (“It makes me laugh/I’m spending all my time/Staring at his photograph”) as expertly as the melodies find common ground between post-punk and new wave. Voices Carry suffered from being released in the midst of a mid-’80s music scene (helped, ironically, by MTV) that had gone all-in for mega-artists with a distinct pop appeal. In a lot of ways, the album is an unheralded throwback to that spiky, jagged post-punk sound from the late ’70s and early ’80s. But there’s an undeniable pop sensibility there, too, which makes Voices Carry sound like nothing else that was on the radio (or on MTV) in 1985. Was there a hit single in all of the ’80s as emotionally raw and simultaneously anthemic as “Voices Carry”? ‘Til Tuesday were a rara avis in an era of bombast and polish.
In some hard-to-define way, Voices Carry just sounds like Boston to me. The band had by far the greatest commercial success of contemporaries who came out of the early-to-mid-’80s local scene. (The Cars, of course, had come out of Boston, but nearly a decade previous, well before the rise and fall of post-punk.) ‘Til Tuesday’s sudden success opened up a vast opportunity for local woman-fronted indie rock groups in the mainstream—Throwing Muses, from nearby Rhode Island, featured three women, including primary songwriter and vocalist Kristin Hersh, guitarist Tanya Donnelly, and bassist Leslie Langston. Mann’s confessional yet assertive lyrical output also seems to have influenced later Boston indie artists Juliana Hatfield (also a Berklee student) from Blake Babies, and Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo. Even ‘Til Tuesday’s specific sonic profile—female lead vocals, prominent use of synthesizers, and a propulsive rock beat—was an influence on later local Boston indie scene mainstays like Tribe.
After Voices Carry, ‘Til Tuesday released two more albums, Welcome Home (1986) and Everything’s Different Now (1988), produced by Brian Eno and Brian Ferry collaborator Rhett Davies. The band broke up shortly after Everything’s Different Now; Mann went on to a productive solo career (including an Oscar nomination for her single “Save Me” on the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 Magnolia), while Hausman went on to manage Mann and found United Musicians—dedicated to helping musicians navigate the complicated world of post-internet music business—with her and Michael Penn (Mann’s husband, himself a distinguished songwriter and MTV Best New Artist winner in 1990).