Aimee Mann "Mental Illness"
Aimee Mann has turned down the volume, but not the intensity on her ninth studio and solo album, Mental Illness. After her power pop-infused side project The Both (with post-punk veteran Ted Leo, who does appear on this LP), Mann’s appetite for loud up-tempo rock and roll had been satisfied. She looked to her favorite gloomy singer-songwriters for inspiration: Elliott Smith and Leonard Cohen. She studied smooth rock of the 70’s like Bread and Dan Fogelberg. Honestly, she didn’t have to try all that hard. After all, Mann is best known for her down-tempo Oscar-losing (a title she proudly proclaims) song “Save Me” from 1999’s “Magnolia.” As soon as you have a hit song that’s slow and weepy, you’re that kind of artist forever, no matter how many scorching guitar solos, super catchy synth-tunes and new wave (Mann’s band from the 1980’s was 'Til Tuesday) records you’ve released. Might as well fully embrace it when you have the chance.
Jonathan Coulton, the Internet-famous comedy songwriter, assists with a few co-writes, which further progresses Mann’s desire to mix elements of comedy into her work. While these songs are not “LOL” songs, there are subtle traces of her dry humor found between versus about typical depressing garden-variety stuff. Mann has history of including comedy in her music and being a part of the comedy world. She’s worked with people like Janeane Garofalo, Morgan Murphy and Paul F. Tomkins as well as appearances on The Daily Show and a cameo in the movie “The Big Lebowski.” It is not easy to work comedy into music in a way that is not contrived. Mann has done it before and does it again very well on Mental Illness.
The arrangements on the record are exquisite and subtle as Mann finds herself working with Paul Bryan again. Bryan has producer credits on all of her solo records since 2006. He proves himself a worthy musical partner adding light touches of strings, pianos and even some light synth work. The content might be sad and somber, but the music moves right along.
Knowing what we know about Aimee Mann, it seems like the concept for Mental Illness began as a sort of joke: to write the saddest most depressing album ever. Whenever this challenge arose, Mann had met it head on with grace, subtle humor and charm. This record’s concept feels like something she could do in her sleep. However, listening through, it’s clear that she hasn’t. Worried minds take heed: your leader’s new record has hit the nail right on the head.
- Cindy Howes (The Morning Mix)